Uwajimaya, Inc. History
Seattle, Washington 98108
Telephone: (206) 624-3215
Toll Free: 800-889-1928
Fax: (206) 624-3001
Sales: $100 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 445110 Supermarkets and Other Grocery (Except Convenience) Stores
Since its inception, in 1928, Uwajimaya has transcended beyond providing basic grocery staples and evolved into a tourist and destination store known for premium Asian gifts, groceries, kitchenware, produce, seafood, meat/poultry, and deli.
- Fujimatsu Moriguchi begins selling fish cakes from the back of his pick-up truck.
- The company operates a kiosk at the World's Fair hosted by Seattle; Fujimatsu Moriguchi dies and his heirs and wife Sadako continue to operate the family business.
- Seasia, Uwajimaya's wholesale division, is formed.
- A new flagship store is opened in Seattle's International District.
- Uwajimaya's second store, located in Bellevue, Washington, is opened.
- Uwajimaya's first out-of-state store, located in Beaverton, Oregon, is opened.
- Uwajimaya Village, featuring a new store and a housing complex, opens in November.
- Sadako Moriguchi dies. square feet, 56 percent larger than its predecessor. Inside, the haphazard layout of the previous store--a maze engendered by 30 years of remodeling projects--was replaced by an efficient and attractive floor design that impressed supermarket industry observers. Outside, among numerous other features, stood a 58,000-pound granite lantern imported from China. The store was one part of the $35-million Uwajimaya Village project. The company also constructed retail space for complementary businesses and constructed a residential development that included 176 apartment units, with monthly rents ranging from $880 for a studio apartment to $2,600 for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit.
In 2002, as Uwajimaya's 75th anniversary approached, the company marked the passing of an era. In the summer, Sadako Tsutakawa Moriguchi died of Alzheimer's complications at the age of 94. Although the loss of the Moriguchi matriarch was profound, the future resilience of the company was ensured by the strength of the legacy she left behind. Tomio Moriguchi, who served as chief executive officer of Uwajimaya, was one of six of her children who held executive positions within the company. Together, the Moriguchi family held fast to business principles displayed by their parents, the company's founders. Looking ahead, the company declared its intent to add to its three-store retail operation, although no specific time or location was revealed. Once the company did expand, however, there was every expectation that the new addition would be as successful as its predecessors, adding further to the luster that described Uwajimaya's operations.
Uwajimaya, Inc. operates as a specialty Asian food and gift retailer and wholesaler. Uwajimaya's three retail supermarkets offer food and non-food items imported from Japan, China, India, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, and Indonesia. The company's retail outlets, which enjoy recognition as tourist attractions, are located in Seattle, Washington, a suburb of Seattle called Bellevue, Washington, and in Beaverton, Oregon, a community outside Portland. Each of the company's stores is patterned after the flagship store in Seattle's International District: a massive, 60,000-square-foot emporium outfitted with authentic Japanese architectural features. Inside the stores, there are several specialty departments complementing the grocery department, which stocks numerous types of noodles, soy sauces, rice, sushi ingredients, Asian beers and sake, as well as a host of other products ranging from staple foods to exotic fare. The stores also include a seafood department with live fish and shellfish tanks, a meat department, a produce department, a delicatessen department, and a gift department. In addition, Uwajimaya operates as a wholesaler through a division called Seasia, which imports thousands of items used by the company's three stores and other retailers, restaurants, and supermarkets. Uwajimaya is owned and operated by the Moriguchi family.
Uwajimaya's distinct and impressive place in the retail industry began humbly, starting from the back of a pick-up truck. The owner of the truck was Fujimatsu Moriguchi, a native of Yawatahama, Japan, whose entrepreneurial career began in Tacoma, Washington, 30 miles south of Seattle. Before immigrating to the United States, Moriguchi had learned to make fish cakes and other Japanese delicacies on the Japanese island of Shikoku in a village named Uwajima. It was from this village that Moriguchi drew the name for his modest enterprise, naming it Uwajima-ya, which roughly translates as "Uwajima-store." Moriguchi began selling his fresh fish cakes and other items in 1928, building a customer base from the Japanese laborers working in the logging and fishing camps dotting the Puget Sound area.
Moriguchi, with the assistance of his wife, Sadako Tsutakawa, fared well with his itinerant business until an ignoble chapter in U.S. history peremptorily stripped him of his livelihood. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the response by the U.S. government had one regrettable manifestation: the establishment of internment camps for Japanese-American citizens and Japanese persons living in the United States. An entire ethnic group was imprisoned in a fervor of suspicion and paranoia. Among the interned were Moriguchi, Sadako, and their children. The family was sent to Thule Lake Internment Camp, located in California. There, where three of their seven children were born, the Moriguchis spent the war years, awaiting release and a return to normal life in the Pacific Northwest.
Following World War II, the Moriguchis moved to Seattle and made their first foray into the retail industry. They opened a retail store and fish cake manufacturing company on South Main Street, in the heart of Seattle's Chinatown (later renamed the International District). Not long after opening his store, Moriguchi began importing food and gifts from Japan, giving the family-run enterprise the broad and eclectic merchandise selection that would later characterize Uwajimaya. Sadako Moriguchi assumed responsibility for running the gift operation, beginning a direct involvement in running Uwajimaya that would span roughly four decades. The store became a fixture within the Nikkei community, building a sturdy customer base among Japanese and Japanese-American residents of Seattle that provided the springboard for the Uwajimaya's penetration into the non-Asian community.
Business Thrives After the 1962 World's Fair
A turning point in Uwajimaya's development occurred during the same year the company lost its patriarch. In 1962, Fujimatsu Moriguchi passed away, leaving behind him a thriving retail operation primed for expansion. Successive generations of Moriguchis embraced the concept of expanding Uwajimaya and expanding upon the merchandising ideas of Fujimatsu Moriguchi, which found their greatest expression just before he died. The World's Fair was hosted by Seattle in 1962, and Moriguchi decided to operate a small kiosk at the event--a moment in the company's history often erroneously cited as its starting date. Although Moriguchi passed away during the summer of 1962, his preparatory work was on display at the fair. The kiosk enabled the company to reach out to the non-Asian community, offering a look at the gifts, kitchenware, and delicacies produced and imported by Moriguchi. Uwajimaya's presence at the 1962 World's Fair was deemed an unmitigated success, introducing the company to a wealth of new market opportunities.
Building on the pivotal success of the kiosk at the World's Fair, the next generation of Moriguchi stewardship concentrated on cultivating Uwajimaya's appeal to non-Asian customers. The company offered Asian cooking classes and began importing foods and gifts from Korea, China, the Philippines, and a host of other countries. As Uwajimaya's merchandise mix became more diverse, so too did its customer base, prompting Fujimatsu Moriguchi's heirs to adopt an ambitious approach to Uwajimaya's growth. The second generation of the family incorporated the business and pursued expansion, forming its first entity in 1966, when Uwajimaya entered the wholesale business. Seasia was formed as the company's wholesale division, and began importing and distributing Japanese and other Asian products to other Asian retailers, restaurants, and supermarkets. Soon, the rapidly growing company found itself in need of a new store, one that could house the breadth and depth of Uwajimaya's retail vision.
In 1970, Uwajimaya opened its signature store, a pioneering food and gift emporium that expressed a retail concept years ahead of its time. Built two blocks south of the original store, the new store spanned 20,000 square feet, which made it the largest Japanese supermarket in the Pacific Northwest. The store, which incorporated authentic Japanese architectural features such as blue roof tiles, was expanded in 1978 by 16,000 square feet, space sorely needed for the company's broad and progressive vision of what a supermarket could become. Inside, the store contained a delicatessen, live fish tanks filled with an extensive selection of sea life, and a gift department offering artwork, books, records, cosmetics, fabrics, and kimonos.
The same year the company expanded its store in Seattle's International District, a second store was opened. Located in Bellevue, Washington--an affluent suburb just east of Seattle--the second Uwajimaya emulated the company's flagship store, offering a broad selection of food, gift items, and specialty departments.
With two stores and its wholesale operation supporting it, Uwajimaya began to hit its stride financially during the 1980s. Along with the robust growth came the emergence of the Moriguchi family as a force in Seattle's social and political scene. The company demonstrated a strong commitment to giving to the community, particularly to the residents of the International District. By the 1980s, the company enjoyed a loyal following among International District residents, some of whom had been shopping at Uwajimaya for three or four generations. The existence of this stable customer base provided reliable financial support for Uwajimaya. Augmenting the consistency of the International District clientele was the growing demand for Uwajimaya's hard-to-find merchandise among the non-Asian community. The addition of the Bellevue store helped fuel the extension of Uwajimaya's audience, as did the increasingly more diverse culinary tastes of the American population at large. The combined affect propelled Uwajimaya into a nationally recognized name in the supermarket industry, despite the fact that the company maintained a presence restricted to the Pacific Northwest.
Expansion in the 1990s and Beyond
By the mid-1990s, Uwajimaya was an enterprise whose multi-faceted vibrancy belied its origins as a business run from the back of a pick-up truck. The company ranked as the largest Asian food retailer in the United States, producing annual sales hovering around $50 million. The company employed 200 full-time workers and 100 part-time workers, many of whom were fluent in several languages. Although the company's retail operations grabbed most of the public's attention, Uwajimaya's wholesale operations served as an indispensable contributor to the company's success. Seasia, which accounted for roughly half of the company's sales, imported more than 3,500 food items and 1,200 non-food items, dealing with goods from Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
During the latter half of the 1990s, Uwajimaya busied itself with expansion, taking on the biggest projects in its history. After a three-year search for a suitable location in the Portland, Oregon, area, the company completed construction of its first out-of-state store at the end of 1997. In December, Uwajimaya celebrated the opening of its store in Beaverton, a suburb of Portland. At roughly the same time of the Beaverton opening, preparations were underway for the grandest project to bear the Uwajimaya name.
On November 22, 2000, residents in the Puget Sound region were treated to the grand opening of the signature Uwajimaya property: Uwajimaya Village. The new development included a new store located across the street from the site originally occupied in 1970. The new flagship store measured 60,000
- Liebman, Larry, "Uwajimaya Fans Out," Puget Sound Business Journal, November 21, 1997, p. 26.
- Lightbourne, Lesa, "Good Works Plays Big Part in Grocer's Success," Puget Sound Business Journal, April 15, 1994, p. S19.
- "Matriarch Who Co-Founded Uwajimaya Dies," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 29, 2002, p. B6.
- Moriwaki, Lee, "The Flavor Is Asian; New Uwajimaya Store Is Open," Seattle Times, December 9, 2000, p. C5.
- Mulady, Kathy, "Uwajimaya's Treasures; Historic Store Anchors Area," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 9, 2001, p. E1.
- "Uwajimaya Chairman Considering Bid for Schell's Port Seat," Seattle Times, November 11, 1997, p. F2.
- "Uwajimaya Hoping to Start Work Soon on Plaza Project," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 20, 1998, p. C1.
- "Uwajimaya Plans Beaverton, Ore., Store," Seattle Times, November 21, 1997, p. D1.
- "Uwajimaya Sketches Out Expansion in International District Asian Store," Seattle Times, April 15, 1998, p. C1.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.60. St. James Press, 2004.