Business owner mixes religion and commerce into a spicy shop
It’s hard not to feel at least a little spiritual—and even a bit reverent—when you walk into Hanuman. The store, which sits on a sunny corner in the Woodstock’s building where Ital Imports used to be on West Third Street, is filled with dozens of serious-looking books on such topics as meditation and vegetarianism, with titles like The Mantra of Krishna and copies of the Bhagavad-Gita. There’s quiet flute-and-harp music playing and rotund Buddha statues with stone smiles sitting on a table.
The jewelry displayed all around reflects the sun outside and colorful dyed Indian throws hanging neatly on the walls. Everything, it seems, has its place in this tidy shop.
While Hanuman is a retail store, it’s more than just a business to owner Victor Brady. For Brady, a devout Hare Krishna practitioner, it’s kind of like coming full circle. That’s because it was in a shop very much like Hanuman that he started studying “the Consciousness.”
It happened back in Buffalo, N.Y., where Brady was a student at the university there. The year was 1968, and some of Brady’s friends started frequenting a shop that specialized in Krishna literature and classes. In the back of the shop were a classroom and an altar where the students came each day to learn more about the religion.
It wasn’t long before Brady was a Hare Krishna devotee.
“I heard a talk, and it really spoke to me,” Brady said. “That’s how I came to it.”
Later, Brady became a missionary for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and traveled through Europe teaching people there about the central tenets of Krishna Consciousness.
It’s a monotheistic religion—followers believe in only one God—but advocates that God has many names and many faces.
“I explain it using the image of a candle,” said Brady, who is a member of the Interfaith Council in Chico. “It’s like, there is only one candle burning, but that candle can light many other candles.”
Krishna followers are forbidden extramarital sex, all drugs, alcohol, gambling and meat eating, Brady said. They chant to “cleanse the dust from the mirror of the mind” and seek to constantly focus on God.
It was when Brady was in Poland working as an unpaid Krishna missionary that he got the idea to bring amber back to the United States to sell. Poland, he said, is full of the stone, and it can be bought cheaply there.
That wholesale amber-importing business expanded each year, and now Brady has several retail clients in the Bay Area whom he supplies.
But while Brady is a Hare Krishna devotee, he’s also a businessman. He got the idea to open Hanuman last year, when he got to thinking and decided that he wanted to dispel some of the myths surrounding Hare Krishnas and make some money at the same time.
“I think some people have a bad impression of us, because we chant in public and may look different,” Brady said. “But really, we are not.”
He staffs the store with the help of five Krishna missionaries who work there for free while they take classes from Brady. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness pays their expenses.
One of those volunteer employees is Martanda Herda, who works there only about five or so hours a week.
Herda calls himself a Krishna monk, a position he’s had for 10 years. He’s originally from Poland and has a closely shaved head with a tiny ponytail at the crown. A soft-spoken man with a slight accent, Herda said he was planning a missionary trip to India when Brady, who’s regarded as a highly trained Krishna master, asked Herda to help him run the store.
He was raised as a Christian in Poland but had little true faith in Christianity. “It was not in my heart,” Herda said. “Krishna changed my life.”
Before work each day, he attends classes along with the four other Krishna missionary students that Brady teaches. Herda spends much of his time at work behind the counter, making a conscious effort to integrate God into his thoughts.
“We try to always remember God and never forget him,” Brady said. “It’s very difficult sometimes … to do this, and see the good in all people at all times.”
While making “lots of money” isn’t the central goal of Brady’s life as a businessman (that would be very unKrishna-like), he admits that business hasn’t been so good at Hanuman. There aren’t as many students as he would like for his daily classes. And there’s doubt as to whether he’ll keep the store open much longer.
"[Business] is OK, but it’s not great,” Brady said. “I’d like to see it busier, that’s for sure.”
He’s trying to drum up business by raising his profile a bit. Sometimes, his students take walks in downtown Chico while chanting and beating a small drum. And they pass out fliers to shoppers on some weekend mornings, offering a pair of free earrings to anyone who buys an item from the store’s diverse selections.
“We’re trying to make it work," Brady said.