SAN FRANCISCO
01/02/2012 03:54 pm ET | Updated Mar 03, 2012

Uoki Sakai Market Closing: Japantown's Historic Grocery Shutters After 105 Years

Saturday was a sad day for San Francisco's Japantown when the neighborhood's oldest grocery store closed its doors for good.

The family-owned Uoki Sakai Market, founded by fishmonger Kitaichi Sakai just after the 1906 earthquake, shuttered its Post Street location in part because its third-generation owner, Robert Sakai, plans to retire. "Basically, if you have a family business, you have two options: sell it or close it down," longtime employee Aaron Bratt explained to the San Francisco Examiner.

The business had also fallen upon increased economic challenges in the wake of the earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis that devastated Japan early last year, the San Francisco Chronicle's Inside Scoop reports. Since the disaster, the price of importing Japanese food has increased considerably.

Bratt, who has worked at Uoki Sakai since graduating from high school in 1989, told the Examiner that the Sakai family plans to keep the building and lease the storefront to another operation. Sakai declined to speak to the press.

Members of Japantown's community were greatly saddened by the market's closure. "We're losing a landmark," said Japantown Merchants Association President Richard Hashimoto. Loyal customers and well-wishers gathered Saturday afternoon to give the store a proper send-off.

"So very, very sad that this 105 year old San Francisco Japantown institution had decided to close," Yelp user Barb B. wrote on the grocery's Yelp page. "My aunt and I went shopping on the last day to 'pay our respects' in a way and it felt very sad."

Outgoing San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told the Examiner that Uoki Sakai's closure struck an ominous note in the fledgling Japantown, one of just three remaining Japanese neighborhoods in California. "Japantown is going to continue to struggle to keep its identity and remain alive unless the city comes forward with a coherent plan to sustain it," he said.