By RYOKO OHNISHI, Rafu Contributor
GARDENA — Run by Shin-Issei (postwar Japanese immigrant) ladies in their 70s, two crafting material stores on Western Avenue in Gardena are facing a crisis and will have to close their doors after nearly 40 years in business.
One of the stores, Let’s Knit Yarn Shop (16126 S. Western Ave.), is going to close at the end of this month. The other is Towa (16127 S. Western Ave.), a cotton fabric and sewing material store. Both owners are crafting enthusiasts and have been supported by their husbands and families, but none of their children are interested in taking over their business.
Their customers are asking them not to close the stores, but both owners say it is getting hard to run the businesses because of their age, and they would like to retire.
Let’s Knit Yarn Shop has been run by Saeko Oyama, a Fukuoka native who married a Kibei, Kiyoshi — whom she met in high school in Fukuoka — in 1955. They came to the United States in 1960 and she opened her store in 1973.
“We used to have many Issei people who spoke Japanese and gathered while enjoying knitting over a cup of Japanese tea,” Oyama recalls. “At that time, some Issei or Nisei people told me that they had learned knitting while they were in the internment camps. I have learned a lot of their life experiences while chatting.”
Over the years, in addition to teaching knitting and crocheting, she became a licensed bunka shishu (Japanese embroidery) instructor, and started framing the finished works as well. In the late 1980s, she started designing and framing miniature origami cranes (tsuru) for decorations, earning her the nickname of “The Tsuru Lady.”
“I have two daughters in their early 50s. One is a teacher and another one has a law degree. But they are not interested in taking over the business,” said Oyama, who will turn 80 in a few months.
In 1979, Oyama noticed that a textile store on the other side of Western Avenue was going to close. She told one of her customers, Toshi Fukunaga, a Kagoshima native, about it and encouraged her to open a textile shop over there.
Her husband Matsuo, also a Kagoshima native, was running a nursery and also working as a gardener. He agreed to invest in her store.
“I am glad that she had something she could enjoy and have a passion for it. I think the store started first as a hobby,” Matsuo smiles. He retired from his business, Fuku Nursery in Gardena, in 2007. Toshi says, “My husband was the bread-winner and without his support, I could not have done this.”
Toshi is now 73 and she has been thinking of retiring for the past five years, but none of her three children is interested in taking over the business. “They asked me, ‘Is your business profitable?’ and I answered, ‘No.” Then they are not interested in doing the business.” For the sake of her customers, “I am looking for someone who can take over the lease and continue the business as is.”
In this store, there are two sewing machines that are used for alterations on a daily basis, and textile inventories include fabrics imported from Japan, such as manekineko (lucky cat) and kamon (family crest) patterns, and they are primarily made of cotton.
A few local Japanese ladies came in and helped with her sewing as volunteers. “The size of the store is about 1,200 square feet and it can be divided into two for hosting sewing classes. If two or three people can run it as a co-op, it would be fun,” Toshi says.
For more information, call Towa at (310) 324-1344 and Let’s Knit Yarn Shop at (310) 327-4514.