“No good music is harmed in the process,” Patrick (Monkey) Chirico assures me as we tour the Bushwick headquarters of Wrecords By Monkey, his company of seven years. Crates of vinyl lie on the floor and hundreds of other records are tucked neatly into shelves around the 1,000-foot basement space, surrounded by various cutting machines, hand tools, and lab stations. It’s like a cross between Bleecker Bob’s and high school shop class. “All these markets buy up old people’s records,” Chirico continues. “They sell the good stuff and give me the shit. I buy these at 10 cents apiece.”
Chirico then turns those records into bracelets, wall clocks, and other accessories.
The 29-year-old got his start in business by selling silk screen T-shirts at music festivals after he graduated from high school. He then went to FIT to major in fashion design and tailoring. One day in 2003 a new career path was forged while he was hanging out at some artist friends’ apartment. “They were making one of those record bowls,” he recalls. “They overmelted one and I instantly grabbed a pair of scissors, sliced it up, and turned it into the record bracelet. That was the seed of the idea.”
He continued producing the bracelets, first in his dorm room and later in his apartment. The business took off after he graduated, and he eventually expanded to an office space, hired staff, and designed other products. The bracelets have been his main jam, though — Chirico says he has sold just under a million dollars worth of them since 2006. “The record bracelets have paid my bills for all these years,” he says. “I’ve never had any other job in New York.”
YACK sat down with the longtime Williamsburg and Bushwick resident, a veteran of the Brooklyn Flea who has seen the neighborhoods transform over the past decade.
YACK: Where did the nickname Monkey come from?
Chirico: My brother gave it to me when I was nine years old since I was a crazy, hyperactive skater kid. I tried to lose it when I went to FIT, but when you say your name is Patrick with the Upstate New York A…Paaatrick, it’s like, no it’s Monkey. It’s crazy how far that name goes. More than anything, the Number 1 nickname must be Monkey. I’m not even kidding. Behind my table, I hear more than ‘My girlfriend or boyfriend is a DJ’ is ‘My dad or significant other calls me Monkey’ or ‘Oh, that used to be my nickname’. I couldn’t have picked giraffe — Wrecords by Giraffe. Seriously though, my brother could’ve picked any fuckin’ wild name for me, but because I had big ears and I was a crazy kid, he picked monkey. That’s a more universal nickname and it makes people feel young and energetic, like records do.
YACK: What was it like founding your own company without having a background in business?
Chirico: When I started this company I didn’t realize I already was a business person — that was my personality. I don’t think you become a business person — you either have a great personality for talking to people and doing sales or you don’t. Before I moved to New York I noticed that I was comfortable around people and I could talk and sell products and make money. But when I moved to New York is when I was like, holy crap this is easy. I’m using my natural-born talent of talking to people and making people feel comfortable to then sell bracelets. I’m a great talker with a good product and a great story. How could I not be a good businessman?
YACK: Where are you from originally?
Chirico: Upstate New York, Watertown, which during the turn of the century was a manufacturing capital. They invented the safety pin, the iron stove. The Black River and the paper mills and everything is up there. I come from a beat industrial town that in the turn of the century had the most millionaires per capita and now it’s just like every other shithole. And they took down all the cool buildings and built all these short ’50s buildings. So now there’s nothing there.
YACK: In a way that’s similar to what’s happening in this neighborhood. Old stuff is being replaced by new stuff.
Chirico: People are like “all these businesses are going down”. But I watched this documentary at 3rd Ward a few years ago about the umbrella factory on Metropolitan. You know that weird sign that you see on Metropolitan and Graham? You walk by and you’re like, What? Everybody always sees it. There’s an umbrella factory thats been there for like 70 years. There are still people making umbrellas in there. And Manhattan Special — I love their orange soda — they’ve been manufacturing that soda in that facility since 1895.
The change of what is being produced here is the conversation. Manufacturing is leaving. It’s the swap of take out this factory and replace it with like The Loom on Knickerbocker Avenue. It’s one business exchanged for another. Younger, artistic kids are buying up these places and turning them into the most centered place of unique food, clothing, jewelry, design, art. Everything is going on in this area because of that industrialization that left, but left us with all this space and creative energy.
YACK: So it’s a good thing.
Chirico: Gentrification, I don’t think we can stop that, from my point of view. It’s unfortunate. I don’t know what we could…
YACK: You mean as far as kicking out people who have been here.
Chirico: Exactly. There’s the industrial gentrification and then the gentrification of people, the typical gentrification. But you’re talking about businesses being put down because this industrial space that they’ve been manufacturing in out here for so long is being turned into lofts and artist studios and restaurants. They’re building in every direction.
YACK: That’s the first step, but the Bedford Avenue area now…
Chirico: Dude, it’s crazy.
YACK: Is it good what’s happened there?
Chirico: Dude, I can’t handle it there now. It’s blown up. There’s just so many people and you gotta wait everywhere you go. And you gotta wait out here too. You gotta wait at Roberta’s. We waited 20 minutes to get lunch today. Even in Bushwick. Before, you’d get out of the subway, even though I’d come here every day, I’d still get lost because it was so dead. At the waterfront where the Brooklyn Flea is, I used to go and peel back the fence and sneak in and eat lunch there every day because there was a skatepark. What would you rather have it be, the Brooklyn Flea on the weekends and new apartments — or would you rather have it be this industrial space with tall grass that you could have these cool little hideout picnics with your friends?
YACK: What’s the answer to that?
Chirico: I mean, there’s only a natural progression of everything. It doesn’t matter if you’re in New York or anywhere.
YACK: I guess that’s true. Last thing: What do you think of the scene at the Brooklyn Flea?
Chirico: The Brooklyn Flea is awesome. I’ve been a part of everything. I’ve been a part of the Artists & Fleas — that’s the first market I started doing in 2006 and I did that ’til 2010. And I’ve done the Young Designers Market on Mulberry Street. All these markets are great, but they all died down and nobody wanted to make it for the vendors. So the Brooklyn Flea came in and gave you a curated event. They could afford to not have everyone in it, to have only what they thought was good. There’s so much opportunity. I met the Vice President of Ricky’s on Sunday and just got off the phone with him and he wants to put us in 10 stores. You never know who’s on the other side of your table. You have to treat everyone with respect and you have to be open. My stuff was worn on Glee for the past three seasons because they picked it up at the Flea. I’ve had dozens and dozens of opportunities through the Brooklyn Flea.
YACK: And now you’re seeing others like it.
Chirico: Eric Demby created this template for what a flea market would be like and now everybody is copying that, whether they want to admit it or not. When you mix curated design, curated food, and vintage into one area, you’re just copying the Brooklyn Flea. They created this formula that is inspiring everyone.