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Chestnut Hill Start-up Sells Books to Help End Illiteracy

MonkeyReader.com is an interactive online shop with a philanthropic side.

When a brick-and-mortar shop wasn’t working out, a few Chestnut Hill residents decided to do the next best thing: open up shop online.

The founders of MonkeyReader.com, Jim Bolno, David Riviore and Dave Lennett have been operating the family-oriented reading and entertainment site since 2009. The site is based in Chestnut Hill, as Bolno and Riviore are residents, but reaches a worldwide customer base.

“We have visitors from all over the world who come to our site. One great thing about the Internet, it doesn’t confine you geographically. Whether your business is based out of Chestnut Hill or Des Moines, Iowa, you can get customers anywhere,” Lennett said.

The partners worked together when they owned Discovery Books in downtown Philadelphia in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but closed the doors when business wasn’t working out. Instead, they switched to an online format, which has opened new doors for the services they can offer.

“We’re trying to keep this interactive feel to the website. We are still developing it, but already we are offering our visitors educational features, a teachers section, articles on reading for children, author recommendations, “ Lennett said.

“We help parents find age-appropriate titles and help find the right book.”

Visitors can also submit questions to the site’s reading specialist, who is on-call to supply answers.

And while the business is starting to garner some attention, including a Huffington Post article published in May, partners’ philanthropic agenda may be the most notable aspect of the site.

MonkeyReader donates 5 percent of its profits to After School All-Stars, a children’s literacy group based in Los Angeles. Lennett said that abolishing illiteracy is a passion, and that it is part of the site’s mission to do as much as possible.

Not only do they back up that mission with money, but the site features research, statistics and advice regarding illiteracy. Lennett said that he and his partners hope to eventually increase their donations to literacy organizations to more than 5 percent in the future.

“As a start-up, we have a lot more vision than we do cash,” he noted.

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