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End of an era: Yamashita Market closing its doors this summer

Mary Kohama (left) of Watsonville wraps up her shopping at Yamashita Market on Union Street in Watsonville Tuesday. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE—After more than seven decades in business, Yamashita Market—Santa Cruz County’s only store dedicated to Asian cooking supplies—is set to close its doors for good, likely sometime in July.

The store’s owner Goro Yamashita says that business was steadily declining even before Covid-19 forced businesses to restrict services and customers to stay home and, in many cases, shop online. Many others, he adds, are making the drive to San Jose for their supplies.

“It’s sad,” Yamashita said. “I’ve been here since 1976, but you hardly see any new faces now.”

Yamashita said his parents opened the market in 1928. It moved to its current location in 1948, he said, as the family struggled to rebuild after facing imprisonment during World War II. Yamashita says he grew up helping his parents run the place.

The store for years has been a mainstay for South County’s thriving Japanese community, and the only store locally to offer reasonably-priced, specialty Asian food products such as freshly-made tofu, mochi, noodles and hard-to-find styles of rice.

Mary Kohama, 68, of Watsonville made a stop at the market recently, and left with a box full of items. She says she’s been coming to the market since she was 5.

“I like the supplies, the food, this is the only place you can get these things,” she said.

More than that, however, Kohama says she liked seeing the Yamashita family that runs the little store at 114 Union St., who she called “kind and respectful.”

“They are just great people,” she said.