Talk About A Family Tradition – Monahan Jewelers
With business in Worcester declining, Michael says it was time for a change and he decided to buy the building, relocating both his business and his home to Cape Cod. “My grandfather [Charles] always said, ‘Go where you think there might be business’,” Michael recalls. “I loved the Cape, and I thought that Harwichport should have a new store.”
The company moved into its new home in 1980, and Michael renamed the business Monahan & Co. Fine Jewelers. Since goldsmith Neal Waters joined the company in 1977, Michael says the business has expanded to offer even finer jewelry. “He is extremely talented,” Michael says of Waters, who doubles as the company’s president. “He has made tremendous pieces for many people all over the United States.”
Over the years—in Harwich and previously, Worcester—endless customers have made their way to Monahan’s, and that list has included dozens of celebrities, sports figures, and politicians. Notable clients include Frank Sinatra, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Shirley Temple, Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, David Bowie, Demi Moore, George Clooney, and Johnny Depp.
Rolling Stones’ front man Mick Jagger has visited the shop as well, and an autographed self-portrait the singer gave to Monahan’s hangs on the wall. “He’s wiggling all the time, even like the way he is on stage,” Michael says of Jagger. “He’s just a wonderful guy.”
Browsing through the store, visitors will find a variety of one-of-a-kind memorabilia. Among the photographs on display is a circa-1845 image of Patrick Monahan holding Claddagh rings made by his father, Jeremiah, and a circa-1900 photo of Charles Monahan with customers in the Worcester shop. A photo from 1883 shows Charles, at 15, donning his first business suit—a reward from his father for selling his first diamond.
A framed picture of Pope Francis hangs on one wall with a personal message written on the back. “I bless the Monahan Family and the longevity of your family business—200 years!,” Pope Francis wrote. “I’ll pray for another 100!” Michael and Neal met the Pope while attending one of his masses in Italy in 2013. “He just happened to say hello,” Waters recalls. The Pope later sent the picture as a gift.
Then, there’s the letter from John F. Kennedy to Michael, dated May 21, 1960. The note was a grateful response to Monahan, who had written Kennedy to congratulate him on his win over Hubert Humphrey in West Virginia’s Democratic primary. Receiving that letter meant a lot to Michael, who had campaigned for the candidate.
“My three idols growing up were Knute Rockne—the Notre Dame coach—Ted Williams, and JFK,” he says, adding that he had the opportunity to caddy for the future president at the Hyannisport Golf Club’s caddy camp from 1953 to 1958. “He was a terrible golfer but a wonderful personality,” Michael says. “He was always joking, always fun.” During the 1960s, Michael says JFK and Jackie visited the Worcester store to purchase a Claddagh ring for the President’s mother, Rose.
Visitors to Monahan’s will also enjoy the “1815 Room.” Located in the back, where the original owner, Kelley, once stored coal and lumber, the space is practically a store unto itself; there are three display cases, regal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and several clocks on the wall.
The room also displays a vintage cash register from Harwich’s once and great Belmont Hotel—and a mahogany desk that serves as the centerpiece of a game that’s been played in Monahan’s for the past decade. Visitors are asked, “Whose desk was it?” and can weigh in on the side of former Speaker of the House and Harwich resident, Tip O’Neil, or former Boston Mayor, James Michael Curley. Votes are cast in a pre-1900 voting machine that originally belonged to the Town of Harwich. “People argue about it,” Michael says of the desk—and the vote. “It gives them something to talk about.” During a visit in May, the tally stood at 19,364 votes in favor of O’Neil, 19,359 for Curley.
The 1815 Room also displays a number of items that are not for sale, including an 18-karat gold miniature pocket watch from the 1700s, which still functions today. According to Michael, the watch was once encircled with 88 tiny diamonds, but Jeremiah—the company’s founder—had removed 22 of the jewels to help pay for his crossing to America, and another 22 to set up shop in Worcester. Customers can also find a ring engraved with the letter ‘S,’ which Michael says Jeremiah made for a prostitute named Lily B. Streeter who never returned for it. Lastly, there’s a shillelagh, which Michael says dates back 1,000 years; Jeremiah kept the weapon nearby for protection.
Contacted to offer their thoughts on Monahan’s, two Harwich business people shared their thoughts on the company. “We’re extremely proud of them for being in business as long as they have been,” says Cyndi Williams, Harwich Chamber of Commerce’s director of member services.
“They have a store that’s got a real neighborhood feel,” adds Guy Winialski, who owns The Mason Jar deli next door. “It’s a piece of the community.” Winialski says Monahan’s longevity speaks to both the company’s dedication and the loyalty the community has shown to the store and its staff.
The sentiment is mutual. Every year, Monahan’s donates pallets of soup to the local food pantry and helps support 50 to 100 charities, including the Knights of Columbus, the Jimmy Fund, Harwich Public Schools athletics, and more. “You’ve got to give back to your community,” Michael says, “because they have given to you. And that’s the tradition all the way back to Jeremiah. The company’s founders always gave to the community—and the community always came back.”
“The Cape is a wonderful place to live,” Michael adds. “The customers are wonderful, everybody’s happy in the retail business, consumers are happy on the Cape. It’s just a great experience to run the store on Cape Cod. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
While he’s thrilled the business has reached the two-century mark, Michael says he’s looking toward the future. He hopes his daughter, Kara, the company’s vice-president; her daughter, Corin; and business partner Neal Waters will help carry on the business for the next century.
Monahan & Co. Fine Jewelers is at 540 Main Street in Harwichport. For more information, visit monahanjewelers.com, or call 508-432-3302.
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