On my first visit to the Topanga Creek General Store four years ago, I was sent for firewood and returned home to boxes still unpacked from our recent move, with a full heart: I witnessed the woman behind the counter perform a quiet act of kindness to someone in need. It was the most meaningful kindness, never boasted about, almost unnoticed. I said to her, “That was very kind of you to do that.” She slightly blushed and shrugged it off, “Life is tough sometimes you know?” That was my first introduction to Helen Yoon, and in that moment that I first glimpsed how our community General Store nourishes our neighbors.
In the midst of their busy schedules, I met for a socially distanced portrait of Helen and Simon Yoon and asked them a few questions.
For those who may not know about the history of the Topanga Market, could you share a little bit about the transition of the shop? What year did you take over the General Store, Who was Mr. Moon, Mikey Moon, and are you and Simon related to Mikey Moon?
Simon: Mr. Moon was the original co-owner with Mr. Joe Gerson. Mikey Moon bought out Mr. Joe Gerson’s partnership portion in 1995. Mr. Mike’s last name is Bae, not Moon. His Korean first name, Moon, coincidentally is the same as the original owner Mr. Moon’s last name. People sometimes get confused so I’m clarifying it here. Helen and I started the partnership with Mr. Mike and his wife Young Bae since 2013 (Helen joined in May of 2014, actually). Mrs. Bae is my auntie, who is the youngest sister of my mother. That’s our relationship.
Where is your family from?
Simon: We’re all from Seoul, South Korea.
Local legend has it you have never shut your doors. That is an extraordinary sacrifice and labor of love to your family and the community. Is there really no day you are closed?
Simon: It is true we never close, only two shorter days: Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
What are some of the family traditions and meals you observe to nourish body and spirit?
Simon: Well… typical Korean food like Kimchi, Korean BBQ, and we love traditional Korean bone broth soup called Gomtang and Sullungtang. Helen and my auntie are both excellent at making the soup base.
You are a strong example of partners who are married and work together as well. What is some advice you may have for those who are learning to work from home, and spending more time with their significant other?
Helen: It is definitely challenging for husband and wife to work together along with kids having to zoom school at home, but we’re fortunate to have older teenage kids who are responsible enough to do their school work on their own. We’re also fortunate to be able to have a business which requires us to go to work outside our home and working different shifts helps prevent us from getting into arguments. It’s good to miss each other a bit. The downfall is that we hardly ever have time to spend together for any meals, vacations and etc. as a couple or a family, due to our type of business, a market, but when we get a chance to, we make every effort to do the best we can and make sure we have the best time when together.
I have been witness to some of the most kind gestures when people really needed it most within the doors of your shop. During my first fire evacuation, I stopped in flustered, and Helen soothed my nerves by letting me know, no matter what, their doors would stay open for residents on their way out to shelter, fire responders and volunteers. What in your experience shapes others to be kind, contributing members to a community?
Helen: From my experience being in Topanga throughout the years, it’s others who shaped us to be kind. We have exceptional employees who have been here for over 20 years and Topanga is a great community with lots of beautiful people who really care for each other, so we all love doing what we do being here everyday and seeing the family, people of Topanga, being all well, even through pandemics, fires, floods and holidays. We call Topanga our home and family here at the Topanga Creek General Store.