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Success of local Uwajimaya store proves hard on its grocery rivals

Despite the popularity of the Uwajimaya superstore, not everyone was happy to see the company move into town.

Janie Matsushima, who with her husband, Hiroshi, owns Hiroshi Inc.'s Anzen store, at 736 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., says that the big supermarket's presence has forced many mom-and-pop Asian stores to struggle and even close their doors.

Uwajimaya, she says, 'hit town with a big splash. We used to have two places in Beaverton, and it pretty much shut them down.' Matsushima adds that the competition, combined with the large numbers of Asian people returning to Asia, almost forced them to close the company permanently.

'We were also going to shut (the MLK store) down in the first part of 2000, but we decided to try and make a go of it,' she says. 'Mainly because Hiroshi wanted to honor his family, his grandparents who started this, and then his mother and father who kept it going even after the war and being interned,' she says.

The first Anzen store was opened by the Matsushima family in 1905 in Northwest Portland. As with Uwajimaya, the family struggled to keep its store open through both the Depression and World War II. From what Matsushima understands, the two families had a gentlemen's agreement to not compete.

Matsushima says Anzen's employees and loyal customers have allowed the last Anzen store Ñ with its five-star spice and imports like Hello Kitty products Ñ to continue to do business.

'As long as we can, we’ll probably hang in there,' she says.

Ñ Shanna Germain