Almanac

News - July 10, 2013

Nak's Oriental Market fights for its life

by Tara Golshan

After nearly five decades of selling groceries, Nak's Oriental Market in Menlo Park is struggling to stay in business.

Financial troubles and family illness have created obstacles for this Menlo Park fixture, especially after store owner Sam Kurose collapsed three months ago, his son, Ken Kurose, said.

"My dad collapsed and he busted open underneath his eye and the back of his head and he didn't remember falling," said Ken, who has taken over many of the store's management responsibilities. "A week later, he fell again."

On top of worries about Mr. Kurose's health are concerns about the financial challenges facing the store.

The market, which has been open for 45 years, carries a combination of Asian and Dutch products, in addition to produce and sushi-grade meat. But recent rent hikes and competition from big grocery stores have made operations difficult for the small business at 1151 Chestnut St.

Rent is now about $3,500 a month, and business, even from the loyal customers, hasn't been enough, Ken Kurose said. Every week, he said, he would find himself throwing away a couple hundred dollars' worth of fish.

"It has been slow," Ken said. "We need more business. All the big guys shut all the small stores down and I think we should have gone down then, too."

The financial trouble, however, was unknown to the family, he said, until he began to see the bills come in. Mr. Kurose had taken out a mortgage on his house, run the business on credit, and attempted to keep the store open for his loyal customers, Ken said, noting his father's pride.

But now, Ken said, Mr. Kurose is just hoping that his son can do his best to keep the store running in the recession. The lease for the store ends in December 2014. Until then, Ken said, he will continue to work at the store and try to make a profit.

Despite all this drama, as Ken puts it, the local community's support has made his father more energetic and motivated than ever before, judging by an email thread circulating around town. Diane Jordan Wexler started the email exchange to ask the community to support Nak's Oriental Market.

"Let's visit Nak's and tell our friends in the area to support this special place," Ms. Wexler wrote in the email. "If we each visit the store and send e-mails to relevant list-serves, it will help this important part of our community's fabric stay intact."

The community's reaction even brought Mr. Kurose to tears, Ken said, adding that it was the first time he had ever seen his father cry. Since his father's collapse, local storeowners have been visiting the market and the hospital.

"I am so thankful for the community," Ken said. "They appreciate all that (my father) has done. It has motivated him and gave him energy — gave him a boost."

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