New owner of a Hogansville business wants the store to be a ‘happy place’ for the community – Reuters
HOGANSVILLE—At just 16, Agnes Kong knew she was not destined for the highly structured, rigid academic life often expected of young people in her home country of South Korea. With her parents’ blessing, she left her South Korea to pursue the vast world of art and photography in America, gaining skills and life experiences that not only shaped the life she wanted to live , but all the design tastes she has developed into her new livelihood.
Now Kong, 49, has moved to Hogansville where she recently opened MUTE, a bohemian-style store of gently used art, home decor and refurbished furniture. The new business venture is one of dozens the LaGrange resident has under her belt, and one of the first the self-described free spirit has pursued with solid roots.
The title she chose for her store was an intentional choice, she said, wanting to remind visitors to take a few moments to “ease out” the chaotic stress in their lives.
In keeping with her relaxed outlook, Kong doesn’t want to be burdened with the daily grind of running a business. She plans to get deeply involved in the community and even plans to introduce ideas like an art class to area residents, making her front and back patios a kind of canvas for developing artists.
“I’m not crazy about making a lot of money,” she said. “Of course I want to succeed, but I want to be part of this community. I just want to interact with lots of people. I want to continue to be a happy person and do [MUTE] a happy place.
Kong began her journey in Chicago, attending a private Catholic high school and Columbia College.
She lived in Chicago for over 30 years, briefly returning to South Korea to run a store before returning to the United States, and furthered her skills in English, photography and art. During this time, she honed her nomadic art style, spending her earlier career studying interior design and architecture in addition to her art studies.
“I was a hippie,” she laughed. “My hair was always changing, there was always paint on my hands. I would be in a dark room for hours developing my own photos and shopping at thrift stores.”
At the age of 40, when she had her son, Aaron, she put her artistic career on hold instead of raising him. However, she chose to allow him to choose his own path as she had and helped him refine his artistic interests. Currently, 9-year-old Aaron helps design tote bags sold at MUTE.
“Asian moms are notorious for pushing their kids to be [successful] in higher education, but I’m not in it,” she said. “I had a very rocky start to life…but I feel like I’ve finally found peace. I want my son to have that lifestyle, so I don’t expect that. succeeds academically. If he does, that’s fine, but if he finds [other] happiness, I want it.
Eight years ago, Kong decided it was time for a change and headed south where she settled in Auburn, Alabama. She said the trip south was another culture shock for her, not just in the drier and warmer weather, but in the hospitality.
Kong said she experienced significant racism on her first trip to Chicago in the 1990s, when many Korean students like her were entering American universities, she said.
“It was kind of a trend,” she recalls.
Kong was often criticized for her Asian appearance and broken English, events that almost traumatized the young artist, she recalls. However, she said she faced less of these interactions in the south. Her son had minor experiences among his classmates, which Kong chose to use as educational moments.
“I told him, don’t hurt yourself, you have to go through all this, mom went through this,” she said. “Defend yourself. Be friendly with them.
When Kong moved to Alabama, she began collecting more items such as picture frames, paintings, and furniture that would eventually become the first loads of her store’s inventory. In 2019, she met her current boyfriend and moved to LaGrange with him and has lived in LaGrange since 2021. She joked that she found Hogansville “by accident” only a year ago, but was immediately fascinated by the small town of Georgia.
“I literally thought, what is this town,” she said.
She particularly fell in love with the small brick building that once housed the Baraca Factory Store in downtown Hogansville. Luckily, the store owners eventually moved across the street, and Kong immediately got to work preparing the store for its new purpose: to house MUTE.