“As a kid I was terrified of grocery shopping and interacting with strangers. I was also the pickiest eater and ate only bread, cheese and cucumber slices for a long time. A grocery store has become a classroom, a temple and a home all in one. It showed me all the different aspects of humanity and showed me what persistence and consistency can do in your life. How quickly and powerfully you can change yourself and everything around you. At this point however I want to again create some more distinction between some areas of my life after going through what felt like an apprenticeship to life.”
Gogan doesn’t sound like a regular grocery owner. He sounds more like a philosopher going through some life lessons. Despite its popularity in the Mount Pleasant community, he thought for a long time that his store was a failure financially. Then the pandemic has turned things around. He finally feels like he is in a driver’s seat as the demand for local grocery shopping has risen and he moves forward to another new venture – online store and delivery.
VOICE(V) : “How did you get into grocery business?”
Gogan(G) : “As a child, I didn’t like eating anything and had no interest in food. When I started working for my friend’s family grocery business, I was surprised to find myself feeling good and enjoying selling food to people. I liked face-to-face interactions, getting to know the customer, and serving the community well through selling food. It really spoke to me.
At the beginning, my intention of starting The August Market was to be a place for everyone to feel welcomed and to enjoy a dignified and affordable shopping experience. I wanted it to be a kind of cross section of everyone. I didn’t want it to be a grocery store for only organic foods or for specific needs. I wanted it to be inclusive of everyone where they can find the ingredients for all their meals at very reasonable price. People of all walks of life come in, cross each other’s path and understand each other. Such interactions naturally happen here. We would engage in small conversations as customers pick up things on the shelf. People’s personalities and communication styles are different, and I enjoy engaging and understanding all that. I love being a part of people’s life in that kind of way. It is interesting whenever I talk about my grocery business, I don’t much talk about the business or even about food. I end up talking about people.”
It is interesting how he wasn’t necessarily looking to create a community when he first started. On the contrary, it quickly has developed as a close-knit community around the place. Not only people come to shop veggies and fruits but also gather around for workshops or talks and it became a place where they share different points of views.
For Gogan, it helped him open up, too; he started to feel very excited to connect, meet people and be part of the community. It made him appreciate the fullness in life.
V: “What were you like before opening up a grocery store?”
G: “I used to have a difficulty expressing myself to others. I didn’t talk about my problems. However, in practice when you aren’t open and honest and vulnerable with others they don’t feel comfortable doing so with you. So not only did I hurt myself by not expressing myself my relationships suffered because I couldn’t connect with people and they couldn’t connect with me. Having to come into this store everyday and working with people day in and day out have really helped me manage my self awareness and consciousness”
The store has presented him an opportunity not only for self reflection but also his greatest hobby, poetry. Ever since one of his customers has introduced him to the world of poetry, he has read and written poetry and it has become a big part of his life.
G: “When COVID enter our lives was when I started to post my poetry around the store. Customers can read them between the aisles while they shop. I also became extra aware of what music we would play in the store at the time, so that we could create a very calm and gentle atmosphere for everyone. When COVID happened, everyone seemed to be on the edge and there was so much tension. It felt very important to normalize things at least in our store with nice music and regular conversations to relieve stress and calm down. It definitely calmed me down, too.”
V: “Does your new online store share the same personal touch as your physical store ?”
G: “Our new website and online store went live on March 14th. We post around 1,000 items online out of 3,000 items we carry in store. Delivery is available all over Vancouver. We plan to keep delivery operation in house so that any item or fresh quality produce gets delivered by our friendly, dedicated driver. Also we want to add a little personal touch to our delivery box by putting a treat or a little poem inside. It is still brand new and we are figuring out the best way to do it. People can feel free to give us any feedback!”
There are also still good reasons for people to come into the store. Gogan is planning to resume workshops, cooking and gatherings once it is safe to do so. There is a bakery project within the August Market called Pippsi’s Heart Happy Kitchen. They make delicious and hearty homemade vegan treats like Heavenly Cashew Pecan Butter Cups and Banana Bread Buckwheat Granola.
Once a child who didn’t like anything he ate, now Gogan has begun to love and have fun with food in meaningful ways. What his store offers is much more than a friendly neighbourhood grocery store.