Thank goodness for corner stores. In the age of COVID-19, convenience stores and specialty markets have come into their own. Along with providing basic provisions (and then some), these independently owned businesses are often a hub for their communities — a place to pick up groceries, household goods and the latest neighborhood news. Nosh is paying tribute to a few of them. We fully acknowledge this is just a tiny sample — so please leave a comment telling us about your favorite neighborhood store and how it’s rising to the challenge of serving its community during a public health crisis.
Spend just half an hour inside Good 2 Go Curry and Mart in North Berkeley during a coronavirus-induced lockdown and you understand why a neighborhood convenience store comes into its own in a crisis.
“You’re awesome, I almost lost it in the line outside Safeway,” a customer, clad in motorcycle leathers, says to Vikas Aggarwal who runs Good 2 Go with his wife, Sonia Aggarwal.
A woman enters tentatively, wary of breaching social distancing rules. “Do you have any toilet paper,” she asks. (The answer: “No drama, we have every single item.”)
A few minutes later a regular inquires about the availability of Lysol. Aggarwal agrees to send her a text when he manages to take delivery of more of the highly sought-after disinfectant. The customer buys a six-pack and confides easily with Aggarwal about how much more beer she’s been drinking since going into quarantine.
All the while, Aggarwal is unflappable. To the many questions about what’s available and where, in the small but densely stocked store, the exterior of which is painted a vibrant red, he responds while multitasking, ringing up purchases, chatting to this reporter, upselling a customer who clearly needs to hear about the special selection of Indian wine and beer.
Aggarwal works 10- to 14-hour days now, he says. Usually, he would make two trips a week to the warehouses that supply small retailers like him. Now he heads out at 7 a.m. every day of the week to stand in line at three warehouses near Oakland airport to score rationed wares.
Aggarwal took over the business from his father, who retired to India two years ago. (Before that, the store had long been known as Rose & Grove Market, the name reflecting its location at the intersection of MLK Jr. Way — which until 1984 was called Grove Street — and Rose Street.) The Aggarwal family used to own several Bay Area restaurants and stores. Aggarwal is proud of all the ways he’s improved the shop, adding lottery cards, gourmet frozen foods, an appetizing selection of fresh curries and samosas, all cooked by Sonia, and, most recently, homemade smoothies and ice-cream shakes.
While he has gained new customers who are avoiding the big grocery stores and come to him for the three items Aggarwal identifies as being most in-demand — toilet paper, eggs and milk — Aggarwal has also lost a daily influx of 50-60 students from the nearby King Middle School campus, now closed, who usually pour in every afternoon after classes to snap up candy, chips and drinks.
Another concern? Crime. Last month, burglars broke in and stole the store’s scratch-card display; last year an ATM was taken. Aggarwal has trimmed his hours, mostly because the area is so quiet now that he worries about more invasions. The police, he said, are not keeping an eye out.