We had the good fortune of connecting with Christine Jeanjaquet and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Christine, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I was a voracious reader growing up. There was something in books that I have read that stood out for me. Whether it was central to the plot or just a little side story, there was always a store that was central to the community. Its existence was woven into people’s lives as they came and went. I thought it was magical.
I grew up in Manila at a time when there was a store in every corner. They were called sari-sari stores. These stores were like the NYC bodegas that sold everything under the sun that the neighborhood would need. As soon as I learned to cross the street, I begged my grandfather to send me on errands to our corner sari-sari store. He would watch me cross the street from our house until I get to the store. The owner of the store would then have one of her staff walk me back to make sure I get home safe.
When I moved to New York, it took a while for me to adjust. I wanted to recreate that sense of community. The August Tree was born as an idea for an online gift shop that had a friendly neighborhood feel. We had brands that were under the radar and merchandise that were thoughtfully designed, However, it did not get the traction that it needed. We decided to join the Queens Night Market to get more customers. Being part of the Queens Night Market vendor roster opened up a whole new world. It was an inclusive, supportive community. Vending at QNM cemented my concept of what a store should be. We focused on the night market and let our merchandise grow according to what our customers liked and needed. It opened so many doors for us.
The August Tree was able to open a brick and mortar as the Queens Museum Gift Shop. It was an amazing pivot – the Queens Museum was like a cultural center. It served its community as an art center and as a museum and I wanted to create a museum gift shop that also served its community. The August Tree at the Queens Museum is a hybrid of Mr. Hooper’s General Store in Sesame Street, a gift shop, and a book shop. We do get our regular weekly customers so I hyper-merchandise, particularly with the children’s books, keeping low inventory of titles and changing every couple of weeks. This way, we help build the children’s personal libraries.
What should our readers know about your business?
The August Tree is a Queens-based business that started as an online gift shop and is now also the gift shop of the Queens Museum. It is a hybrid gift shop – think Mr. Hooper’s Store in Sesame Street that is a book shop and a museum gift shop. What I am most proud of is the shop’s merchandising. We carry multicultural and inclusive books, toys that teach language justice and social responsibility and houseware that reflect the diverse Queens lifestyle.
I am most excited about now is the shop’s Hecho Local program, which started as me teaching a product development class for the Queens immigrant community who were affected by COVID, to help them start a business. We are creating products with Queens makers and creating collaborations between them. We are a shop by Queens and for Queens!
As with any business, it was quite difficult getting it off the ground and it takes a lot of work. In a world where there are so many voices, it is not easy to be heard. Navigating that and staying on course takes a lot of perseverance. I was able to stay on course because of people whose kindness have helped me through. I was able to build my community and exist within it.
The shop has gone through rough times – there was a time we had a very lean year and as with many other businesses, COVID affected us too. What I learned through all of that is that community is important. It is vital to help others even when you are struggling yourself. The purpose of a business is to serve. It has to be relevant to its community. There should be synergy between businesses in the community – when we help elevate each other, it elevates all of us. It is possible – I have experienced this with my fellow vendors and it is what got us through.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
For a week long trip, we would have to start with Queens: Queens Museum (of course!), Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Queens Night Market on a Saturday.
Then a tour of smaller and hyperlocal museums – The City Reliquary, Museum of the Moving Image, the Bronx Museum and Neue Gallerie.
For eating out, I do have a go-to list: Bunna Cafe (Ethiopian), Arepalicious (Colombian), Phayul (Tibetan) and Union Pizza Works (pizza). Then there are the food trucks too – Wafels & Dinges and the taco truck on Wyckoff near Flushing.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would like to dedicate my shoutout to my friend and business partner, Billy Dogillo, who has built The August Tree from the ground up, through thick and thin, with me.
I would also like to do a special shoutout to my dear friends and fellow vendors, Nat and Rachel Krieger, and Adam Stoler, who have always extended a helping hand and a listening ear as I navigate my business.
A shoutout to the kindness of Christine Guillotin, who has continuously supported and encouraged us from the beginning, and of John Wang, whose generosity had opened doors to immigrant business owners like me.
And of course, to Jason Jeanjaquet, my husband, whose support throughout would not make the idea of my shop be at all possible.
Mason Wilson Jason Jeanjaquet Storm Garner