Home AEC Seattle’s Uwajimaya Flagship Store Redesign Celebrates Shopper Experience, Culture

Seattle’s Uwajimaya Flagship Store Redesign Celebrates Shopper Experience, Culture

Uwajimaya, Seattle, Tacoma, Cushing Terrell, Fujimatsu, Hoshide Wanzer, Abbott Construction
Courtesy of Cushing Terrell

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

Tourists visit Seattle for an endless number of reasons. The destination celebrates its rich culture of art, music, food, history and more through a diverse array of attractions. The list of museums, restaurants and other institutions grows longer with the addition of each new generation, and each family-owned business embraces its heritage within Seattle’s myriad of communities.

Sitting at the intersection of culture, food and history is the family-owned grocery giant Uwajimaya, one of the largest among the Pacific Northwest’s Asian grocery store retailers. Founded in 1928 by Fujimatsu Moriguchi in Tacoma, the business expanded from selling fish cakes out of the back of Fujimatsu’s truck into a chain of stores across the Pacific Northwest. Four generations later, the store is still owned by the Moriguchi family and operated by Denise Moriguchi, granddaughter of Fujimatsu, with locations in Seattle, Bellevue, Renton and Beaverton, Oregon. In partnership with architecture firm Cushing Terrell, Uwajimaya is reimagining the future of its retail in the remodel of its Seattle flagship store with the hopes of improving shopper experience while inviting customers to dive deep into the history of Uwajimaya.

“[We worked] with a cultural anthropologist who interviewed the shoppers, and spen[t] time talking to the Uwajimaya family and loyal shoppers about what was important to them,” said the Cushing Terrell project team–which includes Kara Eberle, Alice Wang, Mike Amestoy and David Sodini– in a joint response via email to The Registry.

Hoshide Wanzer acted as architect and interior designer, while Cushing Terrell provided store planning and mechanical design services, and Abbott Construction served as general contractor.

Uwajimaya’s flagship store, located at 600 5th Avenue South, focuses on the new shopper experience while paying homage to loyalist shoppers. The primary project goal was to revamp fixture planning to create a new layout for the store that improved sightlines and overall navigation, inviting new shoppers to experience new Asian foods and flavors while preserving the history of Uwajimaya for the regulars. Cushing Terrell’s project team asked themselves a series of questions when thinking about the new layout.

“How can we bring a refreshed experience to the store while maintaining the loyal shopping base and their familiarity with the store?” the team said. “How do we engage new shoppers that want to explore Asian foods but who may be unsure with how to shop at the store due to the confusing layout, and how do we help new shoppers navigate through the vast selection of products?”

The new fixture plan for the 59,416 square foot store includes a reconfiguration of the layout which creates a sight line directly from the store entrance to the seafood / sashimi area in the back of the store. This improves visibility and navigation for customers and emphasizes the sashimi cutting station, which allows for more interaction for shoppers. The plan also focuses on improvements to store security through strategic placement of check stands at security points and entrances, controlling access to both entrances and exits. 

“We focused on creating a shopping experience that allows for people that were coming to eat now, and a separate flow for people who were shopping for ingredients (eat later)…” the team said. “…We addressed the [security] issue with redirecting the flow and circulation in the store.”

The team didn’t only rearrange the layout of the store, but also worked with Uwajimaya’s executive leadership, merchandising and store leadership teams to create experiential retail for shoppers. They made improvements to the store’s food court, which include a renovated seating area with new furnishings, lighting and layout, as well as enhanced customer interaction at the sashimi cutting station, BBQ duck cutting station and the food demonstration stations. The new sashimi island and poke bar give customers the opportunity to watch live cutting of fish, and also offer self-service opportunities and fresh poke at the service island.

The redesign also integrated the Bussanten space by the food demonstration station, featuring seasonal local and specialty Japanese foods.

“Bussanten is like a fair, a showcasing of goods and local specialties,” the team said. “On occasions, Uwajimaya would work with vendors from certain cities or regions in Japan and feature the specialty foods and products from that region for a certain period. In other times when it’s not in use in that manner, they use the space for other promotional displays.”

The store continues to maintain live tanks and fresh seafood offerings, as well as seafood ice bins and other unique meat and seafood products.

While the team focused on redesigning the layout and improving some of the customer experiences in the store, they also wanted to pay tribute to Uwajimaya’s historical lineage and cultural Japanese roots by preserving some of the former elements of the store. They did this by maintaining some key product offerings, reusing the store’s dragon decoration and keeping sections of the blue tile.

“[We made] sure it wasn’t too fancy,” the team said.

After the fixture plan layout was chosen, Cushing Terrell continued to support the project by offering equipment coordination services, lighting design assistance, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering services. According to the team, the store has been equipped with a new refrigeration system that utilizes a more eco-friendly refrigerant than it did previously. They also installed new LED lighting on the sales floor and in the service departments.

As with every project, the redesign didn’t come without its challenges. To stay within budget, the team focused on main infrastructure improvements. Post-tensioned structural slab also proved difficult for floor penetration, and as a result the team thoughtfully placed the floor penetration points to accommodate the floor structure. 

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic also acted as an obstacle to the team, who kept customer experience at the forefront. 

“The project team continue to adjust and adapt to the COVID issues to ensure the highest level of customer experience and safety for all,” the team said.

The pandemic has also prevented the store’s demo area from operating in its fullest capacity, though Cushing Terrell looks forward to the potential the space holds.

“COVID has not allowed the demo area to function the way it was imagined,” the team said. “Once we get through the pandemic, this space will be focused on food education and exploration. It will also be used to welcome Japanese food purveyors in a Bussanten style.”

Some of the team’s favorite features of the project include the retail street along the houseware, kitchenware, health and beauty areas, as well as the Bussanten experience.

“[It] allows you to feel like you are walking along a street in Japan,” the team said.