Rachel Zottenberg was going about her workday when she suddenly heard the sound of a car pumping the brakes. She looked out the window of her Vancouver curio store, This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven, to see the car frantically pull over and its driver run into her shop, having spotted something intriguing through the glass and immediately needing to know more.
Unsurprisingly to those who have visited This Monkey, the spontaneous pull-over is a fairly common occurrence here. Filled with a collection of what Zottenberg refers to as the “weird, wacky, wonderful,” the store boasts oddities ranging from taxidermized moose heads to social justice-themed kitten postcards.
Zottenberg likes to focus on “the strange and scientific—all the sort of makings of the natural world,” she says, adding with a laugh that she carries “lots of local artists, lots of international artists, lots of strange artists.” There are preserved exotic insects encased in glass (including the world’s largest beetle); small knitted animals that display their squishy guts; local ceramic bowls depicting puckered lips; books on teaching sexual consent; Indonesian animal skulls with intricate hand carvings; and skin care products with names like Thieves Oil that are made in the Okanagan. (If shopping with little ones, be warned: there is also a selection of inclusive nude comics and the like behind a cheeky red curtain.) There is even, toeing the line between cool and creepy, a set of human ribs for sale. “This man left his body to science and I was offered the ribs,” Zottenberg recalls, “which I thought was just one of the most incredible opportunities.” She started with the full cage, and now only four ribs remain.
This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven used to be on Main Street, but Zottenberg and business partner David Duprey decided to move locations when they were given the opportunity to take over a bigger space on East Hastings near Nanaimo. Now those who enter the shop are also welcomed into Betamax Art Studios: a multi-use space that is an art gallery in the front, artist workshops in the back, and communal working spaces on the second floor. “Now I’ve got over 80 artists that can come down and show me stuff they’re working on and see if it’s stuff that I want to show in either space,” says Zottenberg. With a background in art curation, this endeavour takes her full-circle.
For Betamax’s first-ever exhibition (on until July 12, 2018), Zottenberg and fine art advisor Christopher Fadden chose Vancouver-based abstract painter Johnny Taylor; impressively, over half of the show has already sold. “We know Johnny’s amazing, but we were just overwhelmed with the response,” Zottenberg says. “We’ve been forcing him to paint more and bring stuff in because people also want the work right off the wall, which is exciting and cool—so we’ve just got a few of his new pieces in today.”
Zottenberg and Duprey’s company, Rachel & David Inc., is also responsible for Vancouver eateries Uncle Abe’s Diner, The Emerald Supper Club & Cocktail Lounge, and the recently reopened Rumpus Room, which took over The Foundation’s old space. The duo met when he was running Mount Pleasant’s The Narrow Lounge (now also under their shared umbrella) and she was running Grace Gallery in the same building; they loved the way the two businesses brought the community together and decided to create more convivial spaces in the city. Because for Zottenberg, each venture—however different—is after the same goal. “That’s one of the biggest things I say, is I really want everybody to feel like they could come to one of these spaces or the restaurants more than once a week, and feel like they’re welcome,” she explains. “And feel like it’s a place that they could call their space, and feel ownership of the space themselves—and that they’re not just mine.”
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