words and photos by Jarett Theberge
The Mattress Factory Outlet sticks out among all the other buildings and businesses on North Arlington Street. Not so much like a sore thumb — more like a big blue building with popping red lettering and Serta Sheep models standing on top.
Also, the gorilla out front who frequently waves at drivers can’t be ignored.
“Hold up real quick. I have to go put my head on,” says Sim Graham as he makes his way through rows of stacked mattresses to complete his gorilla suit before going outside to hold signs as he has for the past 15 years.
Sim, 65, has greeted the people of Middlebury since 2004. Working in factories around Akron and Medina to support his family for most of his life, Graham started to become too old to meet the physical demands of factory labor.
Sim’s three kids were well into adulthood and didn’t need to focus on a bigger paycheck. So he applied for the job at the Mattress Factory Outlet, which is within walking distance of his home. He started selling mattresses before a position to be the new gorilla opened up. But that’s been his duty ever since.
In summer heats and winter chills, Sim goes out in his gorilla suit with charisma to bring customers to the store and engage with the public.
And no, the coincidence of Sim dressing up as a simian is not lost on him. He seems to relish in it.
Sim says the showmanship he brings to the table is how is able to keep his position as the gorilla without getting replaced. Showmanship is nothing new to Sim. He plays bass guitar and keyboards in front of congregations at various churches in the area.
“It’s like an art; a gift,” Sim says. “It’s something I like to do, you know, working weekends, being around people and seeing them smiling having a good time.”
You couldn’t tell by talking to him that Sim has developed a kind of celebrity status. He has been featured in the Akron Beacon Journal, the subject of a short documentary in 2014 and featured as a character in Omnipotence of Dreams, a 2017 movie by local filmmaker James Travers.
“I just had to be here and do my job and people get to see me and know me,” Sim says.
Since 2011, Sim has sat outside the store on Saturdays as families come to take pictures and get autographs with the gorilla.
“It’s enjoyable, seeing the people happy and thinking they are at a zoo,” he says.
As for his family, Sim says they are supportive of his occupation as a mattress marketing primate and hope he keeps enjoying it.
“They always ask me how I’m doing and to keep monkeying around,” he says.
Anthony Gaikoski, president of Mattress Factory Outlet, has been with the company since its establishment 40 years ago and said Graham is the best gorilla they’ve ever had.
Anthony first started at the North Arlington store, which those at the company call “Big Blue”, before the company expanded to eight locations. At one point each store had their own gorilla, but due to costs, they had to let them go.
All except Sim.
“He is just really good at it,” Anthony says. “Because of this location, and he has been doing it so long, he has become such a staple in the community, we can’t get rid of him. If he is gone for a week, people are asking us, ‘Where’s the gorilla?’.”
Anthony says Sim has helped get the word out for the company across Northeast Ohio, not just Akron.
“He’s become the most popular mascot in Northeast Ohio. I was on my way out to Boardman, where we have a store, and I got a flat tire. A cop pulled over to talk to me and asked where I worked. I said Mattress Factory, and he goes, ‘the one with the gorilla?’ and then left me alone,” Anthony says. “Even the state trooper knew who we were because of the gorilla more than anything else.”
Even with a big blue building with sheep on top, it seems the gorilla is the secret to their success.
“I love the guy, he’s great,” Anthony says. “I wouldn’t trade him for anything, and he loves what he does. He gets so excited about stuff like this and that’s touching.”
Jarett Theberge is a journalism student at Kent State University and an intern at The Devil Strip.