POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Mar 31, 2011
A recent Facebook post from Sean Akita, owner of Sean’s Shop (formerly Mechahawaii), convinced me that I needed to stop by his store in Kaimuki and catch up on recent events.
A few days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, Akita posted that shipments of merchandise to his shop were being suspended indefinitely.
“Unfortunately, two of my suppliers were based out of Sendai,” he wrote. “Since the disaster, I have not been able to contact one of them since Thursday. The other supplier I contacted last night and is all right, but his office of operations was devastated.”
This was still the case when I visited Akita on Friday.
“My thoughts go out there to all the family and everything,”he told me.
“I have friends that were up there, but fortunately I got in touch with them. At the same time, a lot of my contacts I work with in Japan, they’ve all suspended services until further notice. It’s not just the Sendai area; it’s Tokyo, Shizuoka, Yokohama. … Everything’s continuing in Japan, but anything foreign, they’ve suspended operations.”
But Akita keeps things in perspective.
“I know that they suffered a lot, but it’s good to hear that they’re OK,”he said.
“That’s one of my biggest concerns. … Business is business, but hey, these are human beings; these are people’s lives at stake here.”
For now, Akita is working with his Japanese contacts operating on the West Coast to get things back up to speed. The store’s inventory already had shifted in recent years away from a predominantly Japanese selection, mostly because demand has shifted.
“It’s really, really hit or miss,” Akita said. “I’ve seen, like, this week, a lot of people talk about this (series); the following week, somebody else talks about something else. It’s never like a couple of years back — you got ‘Naruto,’ that’s all everybody talks about; you hear ‘Bleach,’ everybody talks about that.”
Those are some of the latest challenges for a store that’s shifted its focus over the years from selling mostly “mecha” merchandise — items like robot and car models and other mechanical toys — to a blend of Japanese and American toys and collectibles and Hawaiian, Japanese and American antiques.
Akita has enlisted the help of his father for the antiques side of things and has partnered with Nostalgia Hawaii to sell its line of T-shirts featuring bygone landmarks of Hawaii, including Chunky’s Drive In and KC Drive Inn. But Akita remains the store’s sole owner and employee, and times have been tough lately.
“It’s a matter of business survival at this point: Diversify to survive,” Akita said. “I don’t think people have much extra income to speak of. We do live in a tough time right now. Even I myself as a business owner, I’ve done a lot of cutbacks — my own personal life, my business life — just to stabilize everything, just to keep it running. It’s not an easy time right now.”
By the way, there’s a reason Mechahawaii became Sean’s Shop, and it’s not just because of the merchandise shift.
“I’ve changed to ‘Sean’s Shop’ because over the years I’ve run the shop, sadly, nobody calls it Mechahawaii,” Akita said. “I’ll hear people: ‘Hey, where you at?’ ‘Oh, I’m at Sean’s.’ I’m wondering, ‘Why do I have a registered name?’”
Sean’s Shop is at 1126 12th Ave., Unit 105; just park in the paid lot (the one with the parking attendant) off 12th Avenue and look for the Mechahawaii sign, still hanging on the outside. It’s open from noon to 6 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. Call 737-6324 or visit www.seansshop.com.