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Uwajimaya celebrates its ‘dream’ store

By Florangela Davila
Seattle Union Record

Uwajimaya, the region’s largest Asian grocery company, celebrated its most ambitious project to date Wednesday: a $35 million retail and residential project, anchored by a grander Uwajimaya store, in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District.

Playing drums
Ellen M. Banner / Seattle Union Record
Masaye Nakagawa, a member of the group Fubuki, plays Japanese drums, or taiko, at the Uwajimaya grand-opening ceremonies Wednesday.
The new Uwajimaya, on Sixth Avenue and South Weller Street, one block south of its previous location and twice as big as its former self, has been open since Nov. 22.

At the official ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning, the project was lauded with taiko drumming and toasts of sake to the new, 50,000-square-foot store.

"This is the accumulation of a lot of dreams," said Tomio Moriguchi, chief executive officer of Uwajimaya, whose Japanese immigrant father founded the store 72 years ago. Back then, Uwajimaya was no more than a truck that sold fish cakes to Japanese farmers, loggers and fishermen at work sites.

Uwajimaya, still family run by a host of second- and third-generation Moriguchis, operates grocery stores in Bellevue and Beaverton, Ore. The new Seattle store, replete with its tidy stacks of Asian produce, its racks of kimonos, its offerings of Hello Kitty and Pochaco, is a glossy and already-popular business.

Sales this year from all three stores are expected to reach $30 million, according to company officials.

Shoppers and guests alike Wednesday marveled at the expanse of offerings. "You usually think of an Oriental supermarket as just some corner store," said Alex Tan, a businessman from the Philippines, who donated the 18-ton, 20-foot-tall granite lantern that stands outside the new store. "Who could imagine a store could become this size?"

Tomio Moriguchi
Tomio Moriguchi
The new Uwajimaya store, developed with Lorig Associates, anchors a project named Uwajimaya Village, which features several retail tenants, including Tully’s Coffee and the Kinokuniya bookstore, and 176 apartments renting for $885 to $2,500 a month. Residents are expected to move in starting March 1.

But the Uwajimaya project, regarded as an economic blessing by some in the neighborhood, has been criticized by others because the size of the project required taking one block of South Lane Street. That block, acquired with city approval, is now part of a parking lot for the new Uwajimaya store.

Before construction began last year, some Chinese businesses and others joined leaders from the Chong Wa Benevolent Association to protest the Uwajimaya project, urging the city not to accommodate the new grocery store at the expense of taking one block of Lane Street.

Project foes, who raised $140,000 and collected 4,000 signatures, formed a group called Save Lane Street and sued the project developers and the city for failing to consider the size of the proposed project. They lost before the city hearing examiner and in King County Superior Court. The case remains before the state Court of Appeals.

When Florangela Davila isn’t on strike, she writes about race and ethnicity for The Seattle Times. She can be reached at


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