By Joe Trinacria
Monkey Business, a volunteer-driven, charitable thrift shop, announced last week that it will close for good after 57 years of serving the Chestnut Hill Community.
The move, according to the shop’s owner and beneficiary, Green Tree Community Health Foundation, has been a long time coming as the business has failed to make money and begun to actually pull funds from the charity it’s supposed to support. Volunteers and customers, however, were devastated by the news and are searching for a way to keep Monkey business, or something just like it, open.
Located right behind Cosimo’s Pizza on Germantown Ave, Monkey Business had been a must-stop shopping experience for generations.
Originally established by wives of Chestnut Hill Hospital doctors, Monkey Business donated its profits from selling used clothing to the hospital. After the hospital was sold to a for-profit company in 2005, Green Tree Community Health Foundation took over the endeavor. Green Tree was the non-profit foundation arm of Chestnut Hill Hospital, which split after the sale and took a new name. While under the banner of Green Tree, Monkey Business continued its mission by supporting the foundation.
According to Green Tree executive director Susan Hansen, Monkey Business had been struggling over the past few years, even though it relies on volunteers. While costs have gone up, she said, the amount of money coming in the door has decreased.
“The board made the decision to close Monkey Business three years ago, based on losses, but held off at the request of its volunteers,” Hansen told the Local in an email. “The board suggested a goal of an annual margin of $4,000 to keep it open, but Monkey Business has not been able to achieve that.”
Store manager Rose Malley acknowledged that the shop was just not able to meet Green Tree’s financial goals anymore.
“Since Borders closed, there has not been as much foot traffic on the top of the Hill,” she said. “And to most people who park in our parking lot, Monkey Business has become an afterthought.”
To the many who have felt a close connection with Monkey Business over the years, Green Tree’s explanation was not enough.
“I don’t understand how a benefit shop closes, especially in these economic times,” customer Ricki Sanders said.
“This is the type of store that should be opening up, not closing,” echoed volunteer Abigail Ray.
Last week, a group of regular Monkey Business customers began a petition to keep the store open. That petition had well over a hundred signatures as of Thursday. Malley said she had not started the petition but that customers looking to gain community support to sustain Monkey Business.
“The petition isn’t aimed at Green Tree,” she said. “It’s for the community.”
For the volunteers and long-time patrons, Monkey Business was much more than just a consignment shop. The connections made between people at the business have forged long lasting friendships, all through the common bond of wanting to help others.
“Monkey Business should never be governed by the bottom line,” Sanders said. “It is a great loss in a number of ways. There was always an opportunity to connect- to see and meet people that you normally wouldn’t.”
“It’s a real death in the community,” volunteer Ellen Gallagher said. “The volunteers are losing a sense of camaraderie, and much of their purpose. It’s hard to find an organization where you don’t have to commit to a singular political or social belief. The shop was a true representation of the melting pot in this area.”
“So much of what people are upset about is not just losing the store, it’s the people,” Ray said.
“Everything changed when the foundation took over,” Malley said. “But I consider this job an honorable pleasure. I made many friends here that I will cherish.”
Director Hansen said the decision to close Monkey Business was not easy, but the board didn’t see any other way to proceed given the shop’s declining business.
“The board regrets the decision, but cannot compromise our health care mission by subsidizing a consignment store,”Hansen said. The board did consider the benefit to the community of having a store selling used clothing; however, Chestnut Hill has a number of consignment stores as well as Green Tree Thrift, also operated by the Foundation, which provide that benefit.”
Although another generation will not be able to enjoy the treasure that was Monkey Business, Malley and the volunteers urge all to come by and pay their final respects. The store is officially scheduled to close for good on June 24.
Additional reporting by Pete Mazzaccaro