At first glance, This Monkey's Gone to Heaven looks like any number of boutiques you'd expect to find in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. There are handcrafted goods, artwork, greeting cards, books, some jewellery...except the things you'll find in this unique gallery-meets-retail space are a little more geeky, and sometimes a little darker than your average curios.
Here, curios are true curiosities, culled from store owner Rachel Zottenberg's own interest in science, the occult, and vintage oddities.
Zottenberg, who co-owns the shop with David Duprey (they also own The Emerald Supper Club, The Narrow Lounge and Uncle Abe's diner) takes a hands-on approach in building her inventory, and says the store truly reflects what she loves.
"I like some strange, darker things," she admits, laughing, as she walks me through the shop.
Working with artists, publishers, craftspeople, taxidermists, and other unique vendors, Zottenberg has created a curiously welcoming space for collectors, kids, and anyone with a cult-ish bent.
At This Monkey's Gone to Heaven you can just as easily pick up a deck of tarot cards for gifting (one must never buy their own deck, the tradition goes), candles for spell-casting, hard-to-find fringe comics and zines, insect candy, vintage taxidermy, human bones, or mounted butterflies.
Zottenberg's buying for the store can swing the pendulum from ordering custom decorated Indonesian cow skulls that take six months to a year to come in, to working with scientific supply companies that wonder what school the shop owner is ordering for. We're talking things like microscopes, or animal organs mounted in glass that bend the line between form and function.
"Displaying [the pieces] makes them art," explains Zottenberg, challenging the conventions of what constitutes artwork. With many customers who are true collectors, Zottenberg says she's sold to many a person who falls in love with a piece--like a taxidermy mouse head, or a cat skeleton--and who saves up for their next obsessive buy.
Sometimes it's hard for Zottenberg to see some of the pricier pieces go, because she's become attached to them. But it also opens up endless opportunities to talk to collectors, enthusiasts, and the truly curious--and this builds community, which Zottenberg is passionate about.
Some of the most truly, and naturally, curious are the kids, and This Monkey's Gone to Heaven definitely has a kids' section. Stocking a range of books that explore teaching topics and alt perspectives, colourful stuffies in the shape of diseases (cuddle up to herpes or the common cold), and even a cheery pastel mounted unicorn head, Zottenberg acknowledges that children "are the most receptive to things in the store."
The biggest draw for kids: Owl pellets, which come in from a local supplier and are rolled into foil packets by store staff. Kids (or kids at heart) can then dig into the pellets, which contain the dried out regurgitated contents of the owl's stomach, per their eating habits, and see what bits and bones and other treasures emerge. Zottenberg says she remembers doing this herself as a school child in her Vancouver youth.
There's been such a positive response to the year-and-half old store and its offerings, including workshops and events, that Zottenberg is already finalizing her move and expansion to a larger space at 2244 East Hastings.
The new space will function like a multi-use space, featuring a gallery, store, artist workspaces, and classroom space, and the opening is planned for the new year.
To warm the new venue up, This Monkey's Gone to Heaven will hold their first-ever Betamax Weirdos Holiday Market there on December 16 and 17, showcasing an eclectic array of local artisans and unconventional gift ideas, from the quirky to the macabre.
Zottenberg is putting out a call for wacky and wild small businesses, artists, makers and designers - ranging from craft to food vendors - to participate in the market (if that sounds like you, apply online).
An event, and an expanded space, means This Monkey's Gone to Heaven can continue to grow its safe space for Vancouver's more oddball shoppers and artists.
"There's not a lot of something like this in Canada," says Zottenberg. A big part, says the proprietor, is being ready to address people, no matter if their feedback or reaction is positive or negative.
Ultimately, it comes down to creating a space that is comfortable for learning, and hopefully offering treasures that her customers can connect with, care for, and love. And This Monkey's Gone to Heaven can keep building community, and be a true haven.
This Monkey's Gone to Heaven is located at 3957 Main Street in Vancouver.
Check out more photos from inside the store.