By JORDAN IKEDA, Rafu Shimpo
If there’s any business in Little Tokyo that has literally seen it all, it’s the Los Angeles EyeCare Optometry Group. Established in 1921 under the direction of Dr. K. Sugino, the optometry practice opened its first office in Weller Court.
Over the years, the practice has had a few significant changes in ownership: First to Dr. K. Sugino’s sons Arthur and Paul, and then to Dr. Roger Kame after tragedy took the life of Arthur in a plane crash. Dr. Roger Kame was asked by the Sugino family to take over the practice in 1966. He renamed it, moved it to the Kajima Building in 1975, and led a successful business for 34 years before succumbing to cancer in 2000.
His son, Dr. Gregory Kame, has led the practice ever since.
“The tradition has always been to take care of the patients,” Dr. Kame told The Rafu Shimpo. “The patients always come first. That’s been the focus of this practice for nearly a century.”
While remaining committed to that tradition, Dr. Kame has also looked to improve and evolve the business and stay ahead of his peers when it comes to implementing new technology and providing other crucial services beyond glasses and contacts.
“My dad was very into new technology,” Dr. Kame said. “There were a lot of instruments that he would test out and use in the office prior to his colleagues. So we still try to do that. And as more and more optometrists have begun to use this technology, we’ve already had it in place and utilizing it.”
The vast amount of this new technology goes towards the provision of new services. These services include: Eye disease diagnosis and treatment; systemic disease screening; and laser vision correction.
As another means to serve his patients better, Dr. Kame felt it necessary to move the office into a more central, accessible location, which would give the practice more exposure in the community and a true sense of belonging. In 2013, Dr. Kame moved Los Angeles EyeCare Optometry Group to the center of Little Tokyo on Second Street between San Pedro and Central.
“We wanted to stay in the Little Tokyo community,” Dr. Kame said. “That was important, because of the long tradition we’ve had here. And, we still have a fair amount of Japanese American patients in the office, but since our move we’ve gotten a lot of new patients.”
He credits a lot of the newbies to social media sites like Yelp that have helped bring in a younger demographic. He’s also seen the changing demographics of Little Tokyo in general, noting that it has become a “very happening” place with “a ton of things going on.” New businesses have been the driving force behind much of the change in Little Tokyo, though many of them are not owned by Japanese Americans.
“I think it’s okay,” he said. “I think diversity is a good thing in a sense. But I would love to see Japanese business owners opening up small businesses within Little Tokyo. I hate to see them leave because when I think of Little Tokyo, I do worry that it is losing its identity.
“I’d like to see more of the Sansei and Yonsei come back here. And as someone that grew up playing basketball and still do on occasion, I’m really excited about the Budokan.
“It’s almost like the Japanese American culture grows up playing basketball. And, I certainly think that’ll help and bring the younger generation back.”
A man with true insight.