West End Revival

Retailer Jeni Cain relaunches Monkee’s of the West End in a newly expanded space

Certain shopping bags bring a smile to a woman’s face and cause her heart to flutter. They’re immediately identifiable: Tiffany’s iconic blue, Chanel’s interlocking Cs, the Monkee’s solid black with the bold white name. Greenville native Jeni Cain has been carefully filling those bags at Monkee’s of the West End since 2006. The 36-year-old’s story is too big for any satchel to contain. Jeni likes to say she and the store saved each other. In fact, Monkee’s is enjoying a post-COVID rebirth after significant renovation.

The renovation looks great.

Thanks! If you’d told me last spring, when COVID hit, that we’d more than double the size of our space, I’d have said, ‘You’re crazy.’ The people who leased next to us decided to work from home, so we took over both spaces and took down a wall. We’re now 3,000 square feet that includes the backroom and upstairs. 

What did you learn business-wise this past year?

That we’re really resilient and that creativity goes a long way. We launched an e-commerce arm, but more than anything, we made sure to be vocal about things we were already doing for our customers. We would already pull stuff, and make drop-offs and pick-ups at people’s homes, and put together packages of clothing to try on. Some customers knew that, but not all. So, we communicated that message of personal experience.

When a customer says they have to lose five more pounds, or a woman doesn’t like her post-partum size, I tell them they are beautiful right now and to take pride in what their body can do.

You started here while a senior at Wofford.

It was 2006. We only sold shoes then. Derek Dunlap opened the store and made me manager in 2008. He was wonderful and entrusted the store to me and let me learn how to run a business, and then when I bought it in 2015, he continued to help when I needed guidance.

You were an art major, with dreams to move to New York City. Why did you stay here after graduating?

I struggled with an eating disorder. I’m now 15 years in recovery and very vocal about it. That’s why I started working at Monkee’s. I had to live at home, and other than classes and therapy, I worked here. I like to say we saved each other, as the store saved me, and then when the recession hit a few years later, I helped save it, by learning how important relationships are.

Sharing your story certainly must help others.

I know what it’s like to not want to put jeans on or see what you really see in the mirror. I’ve learned to be proud and happy for what my body is capable of, not what it looks like. Women don’t have to be a certain size or look a certain way. When a customer says they have to lose five more pounds, or a woman doesn’t like her post-partum size, I tell them they are beautiful right now and to take pride in what their body can do. There’s nothing more powerful than feeling good in your own skin.

Do Greenville women embrace current trends?

We’re not like the ladies in New York City, or Dallas, who immediately trend with the runway, but we pick up those trends much more quickly than we used to. Usually now, in about a year’s time.

What is the trend going into summer?

It’s interesting. Designers work 8–12 months in advance, so what we’re seeing are trends they came up with at the height of the pandemic when working from home. A lot of the footwear is slide-on with comfort footbeds, not as many heels. Tops and dresses still don’t have a lot of structure; it’s more oversized collars, ruffles, and tiers. Vintage peasant and floral dresses with a ’60s and ’70s vibe are still popular as well.

What are your favorite brands?

I have favorites for my personal style, as well as favorites for the store. Personally, I love Hunter Belle, Misa, and Marie Oliver. Those are my three go-tos. For Monkee’s, I love Marie Oliver, Tyler Boe, and Golden Goose.

What’s your splurge?

Italian shoes! I love AGL out of Italy. It’s a super-cool company that was started by a husband and wife at a very small factory. Their leather? You can open the box and smell the leather before you unpack the shoes. You can tell it’s been in someone’s hands, and they’re hand-sewn.Monkee’s of the West End

Monkee’s of the West End, 103-A Augusta St, Greenville. (864) 239-0788, monkeesofthewestend.com