A Chicago couple that is planning on packing up their business and leaving Chicago because of what they say are threats, intimidation and bullying based on their political beliefs has been in the news a lot lately, but part of their story is disingenuous.
For the last two years, Suzanne Monk and her husband Alexander Duvel have opened and operated Worlds of Music, a music store featuring instruments from all over the world, located at 4161 N. Damen Ave. According to a March 17 letter to the editor in Crain’s Chicago Business written by Monk, both her and her husband have been subjected to steady bullying since the couple’s personal politics have become public knowledge. Both supported Donald Trump in his successful campaign for president this year, a fact they say would have been kept with them had they not been “outed” as Trump supporters after a debate Duvel had in the comments section of a Facebook post after Trump’s cancelled rally at UIC in March 2016.
After being “outed,” Duvel and Monk claim that they received threats against their business on social media, have lost personal friends and have lost business from musicians who “don’t want to be guilty by association.” They said they never brought politics into their store in any way before or since their ordeal began and now plan to close their business at the end of April and move to another, more tolerant town.
I visited Monk and Duvet at Worlds of Music on Monday. They occupy a large corner store filled with obscure instruments — African drums, ukuleles, sitars, caters, rondadors, violins, guitars and more. Talking to Monk, she still claims that her trouble began when a former customer got into a Facebook debate with her and posted negative things about the couple on social media for supporting Trump. However, Monk was pictured by UPI at the March 2016 rally wearing a Uncle Sam type hat and having a flag featuring Trump’s campaign slogan — Make America Great Again — draped across her back like a cape. In addition, she was quoted by name and identified herself as a music store owner in a March 12, 2016 Washington Post article about the rally that was cancelled the evening before. So, needless to say, her claim that she was “outed” seems to be a stretch.
Since the election, I have seen Duvel and Monk at a couple anti-Trump rallies that I covered for Reuters and talked to them both at a February 20 event called “Not My President’s Day” that was held across the river from Trump Tower Chicago at Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue. I remember them well for two reasons. The first being that they were two of only three or four Trump supporters at a rally with approximately 1,500 anti-Trump protesters, and because they respected the crowd that did not agree with them. Monk was the more vocal of the two, wearing her Uncle Sam hat and carrying the Trump flag along with a megaphone as Duvel stood by her side. At one point, the crowd was taunting them pretty hard and I actually informed a Chicago Police Sergeant that I got to know from covering a lot of similar protests that there may be trouble. Nothing ended up happening and I figured that would be the last time I ever ran into Monk and Duvel, until the news this week.
On Monday when I walked into their shop they both remembered me from that day in February. I arrived at the same time as a local NBC 5 cameraman and field producer and asked a few basic questions before allowing NBC 5 do their thing, correctly assuming that they wouldn’t be digging deeper than the narrative put out by Monk in her letter to Crain’s. My motive for letting them finish before me was simple, I didn’t want competing reporters to hear my line of questioning and be tipped that this story may not be as straightforward as the one Monk and Duvel are selling.
To be sure, I’m not saying Monk and Duvel have not been bullied or harassed. But the fact that they have started a GoFundMe campaign (their third in two years) to try and raise $30,000 to move strikes a sour note with me. As of this writing, the campaign has raised $16,400. When I was there, a man named William Tedtman stopped in, having heard the story from the local news. Tedtman, who works as a commercial glazer, said he was working nearby and wanted to offer support and planned to donate to the couple’s GoFundMe campaign. Not being a musician, Tedtman said he had never heard of the store before the story got out.
“I think what has happened to them is horrible,” Tedtman said.
Perhaps illustrating the divisiveness of the election, another man walked by while I was there and seeing the NBC 5 van, wondered aloud, “They are doing another story about those assholes?”
Whether or not Monk and Duvel are attempting to take advantage of their situation is up for debate. Duvel said they are up to date on rent but conceded that the past year has been “very challenging.” He said that during the first 6-8 months the business was open they did very well but this year was a different story. He added that the business relies on sales, repairs and workshops to survive. A call to the landlord of their business did not reveal any problems.
I also stopped by Ann Dry Cleaners, next door to Worlds of Music at 4157 N. Damen and the employee there said she had no knowledge of any problems that the couple has been facing. Another passerby said she was aware of the story and while she is not a Trump supporter, she felt it was sad that people would harass the couple.
However, an employee at a nearby music store which competes with Worlds of Music said she was familiar with both Duvel and Monk and believes they have brought a lot of the harassment on themselves and are now trying to cash in on it.
“We had some people go there for workshops and felt uncomfortable because of the rhetoric from them, especially Monk,” the employee who did not want her name published, said. The employee volunteered to me that she was “well aware” that this is the third GoFundMe campaign created by the couple.
Like any situation, the truth may be a shade of grey rather than black or white. It could both be entirely true that Duvel and Monk are both victims and also taking advantage of their situation. Pressed a bit on the what some may construe as an attempt to make money from their situation, Duvel said the harassment has been a “sincere contributing factor” in the decline of the couple’s business.
It seems curious why it would cost $30,000 to take your store online and to move your home. Sure, moving costs money, but it would be pretty tempting for anyone in their situation to try and capitalize on it a bit — perhaps by coming up with the story that they were “outed” by a hypocrite — a liberal who preaches tolerance unless it’s someone who doesn’t believe in the same candidate that she backs, as Monk has alleged with the story about the nameless former customer. Their plan is to move their business online and to move their home from Chicago to the Washington, D.C. area. I brought this up to Monk on Monday and she said that the campaign page is just as much a way to communicate with customers and supporters as it is to raise money. She urged me and others to read the text on the page, which I did and which does say “This is NOT “just a fund raise attempt. I am posting funds we earn and liquidate as part of our goal as well as items we sell, gifts, etc.: WE are earning and funding a vast portion of the goal ourselves. I did NOT make this page to “get handouts”, although people are sympathetic to my situation and do want to help and we are very grateful for their kindness. But this is a DIARY of our journey in this divided political season and a way to tell the story of what happened to us, and to SHOW the world and the haters especially how we in fact WILL persevere.”
However, if Monk and Duvel were solely trying to publish a diary of their journey, there are plenty of blog sites they could use. In the last two years, this is the couple’s third GoFundMe campaign. Both previously worked at Andy’s Music Store, Monk being a clerk and Duvel the manager at the store, then located at 2300 W. Belmont Avenue. Duvel said that in early 2015 Andy’s announced plans to close prompting he and Monk to set up their first GoFundMe account to attempt to buy it. Their goal was to raise $100,000. Monk said they never came to terms with the owner of Andy’s, (who later reopened at 3139 N. Elston Avenue), but raised between $5,000 and $6,000 in the campaign. They used that money, along with with their life savings, estimated at $120,000. to open their Worlds of Music store in the North Center neighborhood, Monk said.
Reached Monday evening by phone, Andy Cohn of Andy’s Music Store said that his store was never for sale and described the story Monk and Duvel are telling about negotiating to buy it as “fake news.”
After about a year in business, Monk and Duvel did a smaller GoFundMe campaign to cover the cost of two guitars that were stolen by a customer using a fake credit card — earning $900 in a day and saving them from having to file an insurance claim, Monk said Monday.
There is nothing illegal about any of the GoFundMe campaigns set up by Duvel and Monk. It may be very well that Duvel and Monk are both victims and also trying to cash in on it, or not. I can’t say for certain, but I would implore you to listen to the story and ask yourself what it sounds like. To me, it sounds slightly out of tune.