A couple weeks ago, the Uwajimaya store that was located in Bellevue off 24th Street shut down and moved to a new location a few miles away on 8th. The store had been there since before we first moved to Redmond in ’91 and I’ve many fond/vivid memories of that store over the years. If you lived on the Eastside, you have some memory of Uwajimaya whether it was your daily grocer of choice, or maybe a trip as a kid seeing foods you could not even begin to understand or pronounce and any other experience in between. It was one of the few places on the Eastside I’d say had real soul and character in an area that’s simply defined as “Microsoft” these days; an oasis that was very “un-Eastside.”
I was really excited for the new/updated store because the old one was long overdue to be put out to pasture. It was just ridiculously small, cramped, old and maybe even disorganized to the point of being frustrating. More space, better organization is always a good thing right?
We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto...
Well, I visited the new Uwajimaya store yesterday to buy some of my coveted ramen and other goodies and I’m not gonna lie: I miss the old place. You walk into this beautiful, well merchandised, clean and orderly store and your first thought is “this isn’t Uwajimaya.” Maybe that’s how anyone who spent any amount of time in the old place will feel. As great as it is to have this sweet new store, if you ever stepped foot in the old Uwajimaya you’ll feel the same way even if only for a couple minutes before you figure out where everything is in the huge new aisles. You feel like a stranger in a place that however cramped or dirty or disorganized it used to be, still felt familiar; like you belonged there. Now, they have giant brand new coolers stocked with beer selections that rival other mega grocers, aisles wide enough for 2 carts to fit through side-by-side (I know, it’s crazy talk…just keep reading), the gift section is spacious and you don’t feel like you’ll knock shit over if you’re wearing a loose jacket, they have actual permanent-labeled bins in the produce section, an impressive sushi bar and lunch counter, fish/meat counters taken straight from Whole Foods, pretty self-serve oyster bins that don’t look like a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco (if you’ve been to SF, you know what I’m sayin’). Hell, the backside of the store says in giant letters that can be read from 405: UWAJIMAYA. I mean the list could go on and on but you get the point.
Not a SF Chinese restaurant-style fish counter
Listen, I’m really stoked for Uwajimaya because expanding to a new store that must be at least 3x larger means that things are going great for them and that makes me happy; they deserve to be movin’ on up on the Eastside (see what I did there? We’re on the Eastside and it’s Jefferson’s reference. It’s a TV show with a catchy theme song. From the mid-70’s to 80’s. Sherman Hemsley? Nothing? Nevermind.). But like everything in life, things change and you can’t expect them to be like they were forever and I guess that’s my problem. I’m just nostalgic because I thought I wanted this huge new store that was more like the downtown location and it turns out the old store was all I ever really wanted from the Eastside Uwajimaya. The new Uwajimaya is so…Eastside…and that was the one thing the old store never was.
This is not a Whole Foods.
I commented to the checkout girl (who I’d seen probably a dozen times since I returned to Redmond in the Fall) that it was my first trip to the new store and the cheery smile melted just enough to show that she felt the same way.
“Oh yeah? What do you think?”
“It’s nice; clean, organized, roomy…I’m really happy for you guys…but I sorta miss the old place…”
*awkward pause* “Yeah, me too. This one is great but I miss the charm and character that old store had, even though it was so old and we really needed to move.”
Checkout girl's new view of the gift section, decidedly less charming.
She’s right. The new store doesn’t have any charm, any character or anything that really makes you identify with it…yet. It’s looks like a Whole Foods that specializes in Asian foods. In time I know there will be squeaky doors, temperamental refrigerators, stories and such and the new store smell (not that I’d know) will be replaced with the same Eau de Uwajimaya that tells you you’re in a store that’s settled into its home. The old Uwajimaya was inevitably in the same position however many years ago when it opened and look at how attached to it I got and I was away from here for 15 years.
Thanks for the good times, old Uwajimaya...
So, I’m excited for Uwajimaya and know that in short time I’ll grow to love the new place that truly sends out the message that the Eastside Uwajimaya is way more than some quirky Asian market in some shitty strip center flanked by a piano and furniture store. But, for at least a little bit I gotta be nostalgic for the old store and pay homage to the place that 2 weeks ago I thought I wanted to see put down in favor of the newer, better store.
Until then, I’m just gonna call the new store Newajimaya. Maybe I’ll always call it that. Who knows; I’m really indecisive.