Mango’s mother-and-daughter team, Tara Alexander (left) and Peggy Garvey, are seen here in 2015. Tara later left to open her own shop in South Philly. (Photo by Jeremy Jones) By Len Lear I first …
By Len Lear
I first met Peggy Garvey when I was sent by then-editor Ruth Russell to interview her in the late 1990s in her shop, Mango, which she had opened at 8622 Germantown Ave. in 1988. There were so many customers — high school and college girls — that Peggy had to keep getting up to wait on them. As a result, my stay in the shop, with its hip, funky clothing (180 degrees from Chestnut Hill's conservative reputation), which I expected to last about an hour, lasted more like three hours. “I'm like a part-time employee,” I said at the time.
In the early '80s, Peggy had opened a women’s apparel store in Wildwood, N.J. A former model with years of retail experience at various Chestnut Hill shops, Garvey named the store “Mango” because it sounded tropical and exotic, and would be open just for the summer season. “Mom wanted to carry cool clothes from hot countries,” said Garvey’s daughter, Tara Alexander, in an earlier interview.
In 1988, Alexander, who was working in the retail industry in center city, noticed a “For Rent” sign at 8622 Germantown Ave. and suggested to her mom that Chestnut Hill would be a great place to have another Mango that would be open year-round.
In the world of retail marketing and sales, Garvey’s original concept, to offer comfortable, affordable, hip clothing and similarly defined accessories, never changed. Garvey set the trend, a market niche with soul. The loose-fitting, relaxed and unfettered Bohemian fashion and social statement of the '60s, today known as “Boho chic,” was a home run at Mango. Most of the clothing fabrics were 100 percent cotton or a cotton blend. Rarely would you find an item at Mango with a price tag of $100 or more.
Garvey closed the Wildwood Mango in 1997 so she could focus exclusively on the shop in Chestnut Hill, which moved from 8622 Germantown Ave. to 8442 Germantown Ave. in 2009. In recent years you might have also found in the store Peggy's husband, Tom, and their adorable three-legged friend, Mozie, “the wonder dog.”
(Tom, 77, a member of the Green Berets who served as an A-Team leader in Vietnam in 1968, is the author of the well-reviewed novel “Many Beaucoup Magics,” based on Tom's own experiences in Vietnam. “In any war, mothers are the ultimate victims,” Tom writes in the book. The oldest of six children, Garvey grew up in Delaware County listening to his uncles and father's friends tell stories about World War II. Tom attended Pennsylvania Military College — now Widener University.)
In recent years Mango, like almost every other shop in Chestnut Hill and elsewhere, has been treading water to keep from being drowned by Amazon and other web giants and shopping malls, which themselves seem to be on life support. And then came the final knockout punch, the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, last week Peggy announced that she was closing Mango for good.
"I'm 81 and at high risk,” she told us in an interview on Aug. 3, “because of respiratory problems. I have been quarantining throughout this nightmare, and it is just time to go. If I were 50, I'd make do, but I just can't do it anymore. I am supposed to be out of here by Wednesday. I have 20 boxes of inventory. Some businesses in the area got government help, but we were told we did not qualify. I gave a lot of stuff away; my daughter took a lot, and someone with a warehouse in Kensington is coming Wednesday to take everything that is left.”
Garvey admitted she is a cauldron of mixed emotions. “I feel very fortunate to have experienced the support I have enjoyed in this beautiful community for 32 years. I will miss my fellow shopkeepers and the many friends I have made during these years. I had so many wonderful, interesting customers, and because of them, every day was an adventure … Since I am unable to say good-bye in person to all of them, I wanted to say thanks for all the years. I will miss every day of smiling and enjoying the awesome people I have met."
The Garveys are residents of Ambler. When asked why her daughter Tara was not taking over Mango, Peggy explained, “She has her own store with her husband, Urban Jungle, on Passyunk Avenue in South Philly, that is very busy now with foot traffic and curbside purchases.”
Jeremy Jones contributed to this article. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org