Sudden But Not Unexpected

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The Mikawaya at the Little Tokyo Shopping Center was shuttered and empty on March 18 after closing with no prior announcement the week before. (NAOAKI KOBAYASHI/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS and NAOAKI KOBAYASHI, Rafu Shimpo

Patrons looking for some manju or ice cream from the Mikawaya location in the Little Tokyo Shopping Center were surprised March 18 to find the sweets shop not only closed, but gated and empty, with nothing left inside but bare display shelves.

With little notice, the company shuttered the store — one of two in Little Tokyo — for reasons that were neither sudden nor dispassionate.

“The store was not doing what it was supposed to do. It’s been too quiet and the numbers just weren’t there,” said Joel Friedman, who has led the 103-year-old company since the passing last November of his wife, former Mikawaya president and CEO Frances Hashimoto.

“Frances and I talked about it quite a lot before she died,” Friedman said about the store’s poor performance. “But I had to care for her and take care of other things. It’s been a very hard time.”

Speaking to The Rafu from company headquarters in Vernon, Friedman said Mikawaya’s other locations — Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo, Torrance and Gardena — are “alive and well.” In fact, another Mikawaya is coming soon, possibly in the San Gabriel Valley, but Friedman would not disclose details, as final negotiations are ongoing.

Friedman said he is saddened by the need dismiss the staff of the closed Mikawaya, but that he simply had no other positions for them.

“That’s the saddest part. I would like to keep them elsewhere in the company, but I would have to let someone else go,” he lamented.

The closed Mikawaya store occupied a retail space in the shopping mall at Third and Alameda streets, which has undergone major changes in the past several years. Originally opened as Yaohan Plaza in 1985, the mall was a popular and busy retail center for Japanese groceries, appliances and clothing. Mikawaya began operating there in 1995 with robust success.

The center fell on hard times in the 1990s, and after a name change to Mitsuwa Marketplace, the mall was sold in 2000 and again in 2008, most recently to owners who have put an emphasis on nighttime entertainment and Korean food and products.

Though not entirely unexpected, the closing was an unfortunate development for one of the other retail tenants in the Little Tokyo Shopping Mall, one of whom said, “I haven’t heard anything. I was very surprised and shocked.”

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