My Sister’s House Treasures attracts visitors to Sacramento’s Japantown

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SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY ­— My Sister’s House Treasures offers culturally relevant second-hand Asian wares to support its nonprofit mission as well as the Sacramento Japantown community. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY ­— My Sister’s House Treasures offers culturally relevant second-hand Asian wares to support its nonprofit mission as well as the Sacramento Japantown community. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

An Asian-focused second-hand shop opened in Sacramento, Calif.’s Japantown in October, after a longtime Japanese gift store closed last summer. The domestic violence organization running the store hopes to support its programs, as well as to revitalize the neighborhood located south of the state capital’s downtown.

Located a block north of the Business 80 freeway on 10th Street — where Sakura Gifts From Japan was located from 1984 to the summer of 2021 ­— My Sister’s House Treasures sells culturally relevant Asian clothes, housewares and crafts to cater to an Asian American clientele. According to Nilda Valmores, executive director of My Sister’s House, the plan had been in the works for several years.

Similar to the My Sister’s Cafe, the organization’s cafe located further downtown, My Sister’s House Treasures supports the organization’s Women at Work Program, which helps women escaping domestic violence find jobs to support themselves apart from their abusers.

“We were looking at many different names,” Valmores told the Nichi Bei Weekly in a phone interview. “‘Treasures’ just felt right. People are always looking for different treasures, right? And I think that part of it is, too, just thinking of our own work helping victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. We consider them treasures.”

Aside from serving as a revenue source for the organization’s programs, Valmores said the store has also helped spread the word about the organization’s primary mission, to help abused women and children.

“We already had someone come to our office, and when we asked how they heard about My Sister’s House, it was because their aunt had heard about My Sister’s House Treasures,” Valmores said. “… We knew that, that was going to happen. We didn’t think it was going to happen so soon. … It hurts when people have to use our services, but on the other hand, we want people to know about our services, in case they ever need our services either for themselves or their friends. And that’s why My Sister’s House has to exist to be able to provide critical life-saving services for the people, especially our Asian Pacific Islander community.”

Domestic violence continues to be a problem as the pandemic continues. Valmores noted that calls to their office tend to ebb and flow with the pandemic’s severity. She said more people tend to call when they are able to get out of the house, but when COVID-19 cases go up, the calls drop off as people stay home.

Marta Pena-Lane oversees the store as its manager. Valmores tapped her for the position after she began volunteering for the organization shortly before the pandemic started. Pena-Lane, who retired from working in sales and sales management, said she was impressed by those who have supported the store thus far.

“It just amazes me on a daily basis, the number of friends that My Sister’s House has in their reserves, and how they’ve helped us with the store,” she said. “Not only are they helping us bringing in donations, they’re coming in, they’re purchasing and then they’re telling their friends. … That’s how we’re getting the word out.”

Rev. Bob Oshita, the Sacramento Betsuin’s former minister, said he has known Valmores and My Sister’s House since its founding days in 2000. He was asked to speak at the store’s grand opening celebration Nov. 6. He said the new store is a great addition to the neighborhood and plans to deliver a carload of donations to the store.

“They’ve come a long way, … especially due to Nilda’s dedication; she really is the face of My Sister’s House and (I’m) just so glad to have that resource available to be able to recommend to people who are in need,” Oshita said during a phone interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly.

Pena-Lane and Valmores said they are also getting to know their neighboring merchants. In addition to supporting the organization’s mission, Valmores said she hopes the store will help attract more customers to the historically Japanese American neighborhood.

Local businesses like Osaka-ya (R) joined the store’s grand opening celebration to sell their own products Nov. 6. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

Starting with the Japantown Treasures Fest held in November and a Christmas in Japantown event in December, the organization has hosted community gatherings featuring crafts, local musicians and food to help drum up foot traffic to the neighborhood.

“We’re hoping that with My Sister’s House Treasures, that the whole block, the whole Japantown benefits, not just our organization,” Valmores said. Even with the pandemic looming, she said she hopes to host a safe gathering to celebrate the Lunar New Year at the store in February to continue bringing people to the neighborhood.

Janice Yamaoka Luszczak, president of the Sacramento chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, noted that Sacramento’s Japantown is historically the city’s “second Japantown,” after the city elected to demolish the original site of the ethnic enclave downtown to make way for government buildings in the 1950s.

“Several of the Japantown businesses and churches moved a few blocks south,” Luszczak told the Nichi Bei Weekly in an e-mail. “However, it suffered a second time when the governor built a freeway through the center of the new Japantown.”

Oshita, who retired from being the head minister of the Sacramento Betsuin in 2016 after 32 years at the temple, considers the area around the temple and the shops on 10th Street as a “remnant of Japantown.” He said his church had once played a central role as a “safety net” for the Japanese American community after the war, and how redevelopment in the 1950s forced the community to grow a stronger spiritual connection over a physical one. He said that while he did not see many of his community members throughout the year, the Betsuin’s annual bazaar attracted tens of thousands of visitors, many from out of town, who shared a common sense of community with the temple.

“Sacramento was, in a way, more prepared to have a sense of community that was not just physical, because of the uprooting … although it’s nice to always have a physical sense of community, Nihonmachi in many places, I think, are going to become more of a virtual thing, especially during the pandemic. We’re feeling this even more,” he said.

While the Nikkei merchants in Sacramento may not officially constitute an ethnic enclave anymore, key businesses remain. Luszczak and Oshita mentioned the Royal Louis Florist and Osaka-ya manju shop, as well as the newer Binchoyaki Japanese restaurant. The JACL chapter president noted that her chapter’s offices are located a block away in what was the Ouye Pharmacy. Luszczak welcomed My Sister’s House Treasures’ addition to the neighborhood, noting the store has attracted people to the area. Valmores said she has also supported her neighbors’ businesses.

“(During) the grand opening, we wanted to make sure that people knew (about our store), but the neighbors have been wonderful and we’ve loved getting to know them,” Valmores said. “Many of the businesses are great businesses that unfortunately, or fortunately, are taking a bit of our pocketbooks, because they’re so good. You’re nearby, you can’t help but patronize them.”

Valmores said she hopes people will stop in to search for their own treasures at their store, but Pena-Lane offered a word of advice: “If you see something you like, you better grab it because I can’t order it again, and it will be gone.”

My Sister’s House Treasures is located 2223 10th St., Sacramento, Calif. They are open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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