(Note: This year's Midtown Street Fair, to be held June 5 on Capitol Avenue, will highlight the ethnic diversity of midtown and downtown. For a taste of that diversity, we sent reporter Bill Kirk for a stroll through the heart of downtown Sacramento's Asian community.)
Sacramento is becoming more and more known for its diversity and change. And in the seven blocks along 10th Street, between P Street and the freeway, you will find about as much of both as anywhere else in town, from the newer coffee and bagel shops opposite Roosevelt Park to the Osaka Ya bakery near the freeway. To learn more about life on 10th Street, it's best to do it on foot.
The street comes to life at down, but not all at once. First up are the shops that catch the early morning commuters on their way to work downtown. In fact, the closer you get to downtown the earlier dawn cracks. On a recent morning at the Bagful of Bagels, a long line of customers snaked through the doorway perhaps more in a hurry for their daily bread than they were to get to work. A few doors down, others waited eagerly if somewhat impatiently for their morning wake-up fix of espresso, mocha or latte. It's not called rush hour for nothing, you know.
Seven blocks to the south, another bakery has also come to life, although the proprietor declares that the early hours are getting harder after 30 years. Osaka Ya (or Osaka Store) was among several Asian establishments that moved to the south end of 10th Street in the late 1950s and early 1960s from locations near Capitol Mall and 4th Street as the governmental center of the downtown area began to expand.
Across the street, Ken Furuta told a similar story at the Royal Florist. Although a relative newcomer to this stable commercial strip on the south end of 10th Street, Furuta said that the previous owners, also Japanese, had been there for 23 years before that. "Some of the people who own businesses have been around here or elsewhere in town since right after the war," he said.
Next door at the Senator Fish Market, Ross Masaki would agree. His grandfather originally started in 1948 on Capitol Mall, moving to its current location in 1962. Masaki, who took over the business about five years ago, told us that fish is slowly gaining in popularity in Sacramento but that among the Asian community it has always been an important part of their diet. "Probably 90 percent of our customers are Japanese, so our business has been stead over the years," he said. "But we are also getting a fair amount of outside business because of the amount of street traffic through the area."
This comment was echoed by David Schroeder of Schroeder's Shoe Repair shop. "Since we are close to the under-freeway parking lot, people find it convenient to stop either in the morning or in the evening on their way home from work."
As one of the few non-Asian proprietors along this strip, Schroeder notes that he has been in business here for only ten years. As if anticipating the question, however, Schroeder told us that the original owner of the shop was a Japanese man. "He sold it to me when he was 83 years old after being in business since 1952," he said with a smile.
Another longtime local operation is the Ouye Pharmacy at 10th and S streets. Lloyd Ouye took over the business in 1977 from his father, who had built the store in 1959. "We are probably one of the last neighborhood corner drugstores in the city," Ouye said. When asked what has kept the neighborhood so stable over the years, Ouye answered that although there is not a formal organization among the businesses along 10th Street, the owners have joined forces to oppose any change to the current exclusive commercial zoning.
Their assumption has been that commercial property values will remain high as long as mixed use zoning does not occur. This stand has not won the hearts of city planners, according to Jeff Archuleta of the city Planning Department. "W have been trying to slowly move downtown to mixed-use/residential zoning to bring more residents into the downtown area," he said. At least for the time being, planners and current business owners have apparently reached an accommodation to preserve the current commercial predominance along the 10th Street corridor.
Traveling north from the freeway, the nature of the 10th Street commercial district changes. The transition occurs as you pass S Street, the location of the Old Ironsides Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant. In business since 1934, Old Ironsides is the oldest bar in Sacramento, according to its current daytime manager, San Kanelos, Jr.
"The original building was supposedly built shortly after the Civil War and my grandfather opened the place as a bar right after the end of the prohibition era," he said. Asked where the name came from, Kanelos told us that it had no name at first. "An early visitor said he had seen the original Old Ironsides ship in San Francisco and suggested the name to my grandfather." Possibly because of its solid brick construction, the name has seemed appropriate ever since, opined Kanelos.
Hand bills posted on the door announce a host of new groups such as the Groove Goulies, the Gits and the Creamers. "We get a young crowd in here on the weekends," said Kanelos, who also told us that Thursday night is jazz night.
Two blocks further up the street for the breakfast and lunch crowd is the Fox and Goose. It was opened in 1975 by Bill Dalton who, according to his son Stephen, brought to Sacramento his dream of an English pub from his home in England. Inside classical music could be heard as the breakfast crowd lingered over the last of the coffee. Although a long way from its English sisters, "the Fox and Goose offer one of the best selections of English and European beers on the West Coast," said Dalton. He explained that their customers are a discerning group which comes from all over the city. "We have remained faithful to our theme, so when you come in looking for an English pub, you get what you expect."
So what is it about these 10th Street businesses that allows them to be giving chase to the recession? "It's Japan Town, says Lloyd Ouye at his pharmacy, recalling the stability of the neighborhood in which his family has done business for almost 35 years. "Our customers are the reason we are on of the last local drugstores in the city, he said. "Our customers are the heart and soul of the neighborhood."
Strolling up the street, I felt somewhat out of place without a filled net shopping bag in each hand, although net has given way to plastic these days. With the exception of the government workers who stop as they make their twice daily passes up and down the one way streets through the area, Japan Town's customers walk from shop-to-shop, carrying their fresh fish, vegetables and tea cakes, with shoulders rounded, as they have done for years in downtown Sacramento and for centuries before that.
Perhaps it will be the younger generation which will change the old ways in the neighborhood or even the shop owners themselves, many of whom live in Land Park or other suburbs. Maybe change will simply come with the inevitable growth of other residential neighborhoods south of the capitol, adding to the patchwork of ethnic diversity which gives a city its strength. For the time being, however, Sacramento's Japan Town quietly retain an apparently seamless cultural identity which has been its little-known trademark for decades.
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Copyright © 1993 by the Suttertown News and 2002-2015 by billkirkwrites. All rights reserved