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Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees — on Thompson Street!

This may be a little known fact even for the most dedicated of Monkees fans, but from 1967 to 1969, Monkees lead singer Davy Jones had a ‘mod’ clothing shop called Zilch I at 217 Thompson Street, a 1909 tenement in the South Village Historic District which Village Preservation got landmarked in 2013 (more info on South Village history and preservation efforts here). At the grand opening on October 20, 1967, fellow Monkee Peter Tork, Sally Field, David Pearl, Lynne Randell, and by one account, over 2,000 fans were all in attendance! As Davy said in the promo for the opening: “HELLO! How are you? Welcome to the wonderful world of Zilch I! Let’s start from the very beginning and proceed step by step — up to and through the opening of my new mod boutique in Greenwich Village in New York City!”

In front are Peter Tork, Sally Field and Davy Jones at the opening of Zilch I along with David Pearl and his friend Rachel at the rear.

Pictures showed Davy taking a hands-on approach before the opening including making “sure that all the achkans were neatly arranged and placed in order according to size.”

Pictures of Davy Jones preparing his store Zilch I for its grand opening. Note the gratuitous rear shot.

Gloria Stavers, then editor-in-chief for 16 magazine, was in attendance as well, and the publicity shots show her helping Davy pick out clothes.

16 ran a contest to promote the new store in February of 1968. Contestants could submit a ballot with the chance of winning clothes from Davy’s shop, a personal phone call from Davy, a hand-written letter from Davy authenticating the prize, and (be-still my beating heart) a lock of Davy’s hair for the winner to “wear in a locket around your neck or do with it whatever you please!” That truly is ‘so super stupendous no words can describe it!’

And why the name Zilch for the store? Again for you non-die-hard Monkees fans, Zilch was the name of a song from the group’s album “Headquarters” released in 1967. Although I didn’t find an acknowledgment of this link between the store and that song, it’s probably the case. It’s a pretty strange song (listen here), definitely deviating from some of their more well-known hits such as Pleasant Valley Sunday, I’m a Believer, Last Train to Clarksville, and (my favorite) Daydream Believer.

To take a step way back (on my steppin’ stone) and explain a bit about the Monkees for those who had never heard of them before (my daughter is disappointed that I am not writing about actual monkeys in Greenwich Village — she’s 22), the Monkees were intended to be kind of an American answer to the Beatles — right down to the misspelling of the animal kingdom-derived name. But though they first appeared in the late 1960s, they were meant as kind of a cleaned up version of the teen heartthrob Beatle-mania era Beatles of the early 1960s, while the Beatles themselves had moved on to considerably more substantive pursuits.

The Monkees were a rock/pop musical group active between 1966 and 1971, with tours in the decades that followed. They were a made-for-TV band created for a series that aired between 1966 and 1968. The actors/musicians included Davy Jones (of course), Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith (did his mother really invent Wite-out?), and Peter Tork.

There are a few interesting facts about the Monkees. First of all, record producer Don Kirshner initially supervised their music. He was the one who hired Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to write the Monkees theme song, which helped get the series on the air. The success of the show made them one of the most popular bands of the 1960s in terms of record sales, having sold more than 75 million records worldwide. Four hundred thirty-seven people applied for the parts on the sitcom, and Peter Tork was the last hired. At that time, he was working in Greenwich Village as a musician and had shared the stage with Pete Seeger. While the Monkees recording career was brief, their television career and reunion tours lasted much longer. After the show went off the air in 1968 it continued on in heavy rotation in syndication through the 1970s, and then experienced a revival and introduction to a new generation when MTV began airing the series in 1986 as part of that decade’s fascination with the 1960s.

217-219 Thompson Street today

Today, 217 Thompson Street houses a tea shop and Chess Forum, one of Village Preservation’s Businesses of the Month and a 2020 Village Award winner. Still in evidence of its Monkees’ affiliation at No. 217 Thomspns Street are the ‘Z’ door handles from its Zilch I days!

I’m a believer!

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