Talk About A Family Tradition – Monahan Jewelers
Monahan Jewelers of Harwich celebrates 200 years in business
Situated among a lineup of traditional looking stores and eateries on Harwichport’s vibrant Main Street (Route 28), one shop may appear slightly out of place. Built circa 1850, the rustic, wood-paneled building at 540 Main Street evokes the past—and a sense of nostalgia; visitors and customers who walk through the front door may soon feel they’re being transported back in time.
Inside, a feeling or sense of history is apparent, if not palpable. Hundreds of photos, paintings, letters, and other trinkets cover the store’s walls and display cases, each memento helping to illuminate the rich history of a business—and a family.
For more than 30 years, this Harwich location has been home to Monahan & Co. Fine Jewelers, but the company’s history goes back much farther than that. This year, the company, which was founded in Worcester during the early 19th century before relocating to Cape Cod in 1980, celebrates its 200th anniversary.
“There’s not a store like it in America,” says Michael O’Neill Monahan, the company’s owner and chairman. “It’s a treasure.” For Michael, who has run the business since 1962, the company is his family’s legacy, and he feels a great sense of pride in helping to carry it on.
Unlike pristine and clutter-free jewelry stores one may find in the mall, Monahan’s features jam-packed display cases, jewelry-covered countertops, and endless memorabilia hither and yon. “We realize we’re like a museum,” Michael says, “but we are a store that does business, and the product—people are so happy when they get it from us.”
Open from mid-May through December, Monahan’s sells original, custom pieces, including bracelets and necklaces, as well as fashion jewelry and one-of-a-kind estate pieces such as a tantalizing tanzanite ring that changes color in the light. The company also does repair work, and offers jewelry in a wide price range, from $15 to $500,000. “Anybody, anywhere that wants to buy real top-notch jewelry can come here and get anything they want,” Michael says.
Involved with the business since he was about 10 years old, Michael says the key to pleasing customers is simple: provide quality, personal service. “It’s so easy to be nice to people,” he says. “Just ask people where they’re from, and you’ll start talking.” Whether customers are coming in to have a piece of jewelry fixed or to have a ring sized, Michael says he and his staff enjoy getting to know the customers and making personal connections. “This,” he says, “is their jewelry store. People feel like they are members of the family.” And while Michael is happy to be on Cape Cod, he does look back fondly on the company’s first 165 years . . . in Worcester.
The Monahan’s story begins with Michael’s great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Monahan (1776-1856), who established a watchmaking and jewelry repair business at the corner of Myrtle and Main Streets in Worcester in 1815. A native of Dublin, Ireland, Jeremiah came to America to build a new life. According to Michael, Worcester’s Protestant Yankees—who under most circumstances at that time would have wanted nothing to do with an Irishman—accepted his ancestor because he provided them with goods and services that had previously required a 45-mile journey to Boston to find.
The business would eventually be passed down to Jeremiah’s son, Patrick (1825-1912); then to Patrick’s son, Charles (1868-1948); and Charles’ son, Robert (1910-1995), who is Michael Monahan’s father. Born in 1940, Michael took ownership of the store at the age of 22. While his seven brothers and sisters also worked at the store when they were young, Michael is the last to stick with the business.
In 1958, the city of Worcester razed the building that housed Monahan’s as part of a city redevelopment initiative—the site later became home to what remains today a Registry of Motor Vehicles—and the jewelry business moved across the street, remaining there until 1979.
That year, Michael was vacationing with family in Harwich when he discovered the building at 540 Main Street was on the market. In the mid to late 1800s, the building was owned by Henry Kelley and served as a ship supply and coal and lumber store; in the 1900s, the building was a hardware store owned by the Eldridge family.