Walk into Pacific Flooring and Imports in Abbotsford, and customers will see a seemingly unlikely combination of laminate flooring, spices, international foods and charcoal for barbecues.
But, as proprietor Hans Goertzen says, the biggest selling item is yerba maté, a South American herbal tea popular with many Mennonites. Packages of the maté are prominently displayed at the front of the store.
“I grew up with my yerba,” says Goertzen, who immigrated to Canada from Paraguay in 1986. “When I opened at this location, that’s what I wanted to sell.”
Goertzen, a member of Eben-Ezer Mennonite Church, sells products that cannot be found anywhere else in the area. Many Mennonites of Paraguayan origin in the Abbotsford community frequent his shop, along with members of the Spanish-speaking community. Goertzen says he also has customers come from the Greater Vancouver Area and from as far away as Kelowna and Penticton.
The array of products on Goertzen’s shelves comes from many countries, including Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Poland, Germany and the United States. Shoppers might find coconut milk, cassava flour, soft drinks, mortar and pestle sets, and an array of spices, soaps and medicinal ointments. In the corner freezer is farmer’s sausage from Manitoba, which many Fraser Valley residents prefer over that produced locally, he says.
Products such as hominy and dried chili peppers have become popular recently as Goertzen supplies food wholesale to Mexican restaurants. Additionally, he says that Mexican immigrant farm workers have discovered his store as a source for familiar products, and are pleased he can answer back in Spanish when they ask, “Habla usted español?”
Gourd vessels and bombillas (spoons) for maté, and guampas (carved cattle horns) for sipping terere (a chilled version of maté) are other popular items. There are even beginner starter kits that include the whole maté drinking package.
Those who want to bake chipa (Paraguayan cheese bread) can find not only the necessary ingredients at Pacific Flooring and Imports, but a recipe too.
Goertzen previously had worked in construction in Richmond before getting into the flooring business. Although Pacific Imports and Flooring today concentrates mostly on the specialty imports side, flooring is still part of the business, and there are laminate samples right alongside the yerba maté and other food supplies. “We offer very comparable prices on installation,” he says.
For Goertzen, satisfaction in his business comes from knowing he supplies many healthy products. The yerba maté is organic, and the charcoal imported from Paraguay is also all-natural. “The charcoal you buy here [in Canada] is full of chemicals,” Goertzen claims. “I sell to a lot of Mennonites [who want the natural product].”
And in supplying products that are not found elsewhere in the area, Goertzen serves a unique clientele. Without his store, shoppers would have to go as far away as Vancouver to find what they need. “This is a specialty store. I like making people happy,” he says.