The second do-it-yourself floral arranging “Stem Bar” will be held at CRFT by Maki and hosted by Little Tokyo Florist on Dec. 18. (Photo by Mariko Lochridge)

By MARIKO LOCHRIDGE, Rafu Contributor

2022 marks the fifth year of the Nikkei Holiday Guide presented by the Nikkei Entrepreneur Spotlight. What began as a curation of local, Nikkei-owned small businesses presented in a gift guide catalog format has evolved into reflections on the resilience and ingenuity of our small business owners as they battle for survival in an unfriendly economy of rising cost of goods, gentrification and natural disaster.

This year, in the spirit of collaboration, we will present three Nikkei-owned small businesses that are generously sharing their platforms to uplift their community and fellow Nikkei and AAPI entrepreneurs. This three-part series will share the efforts of CRFT by Maki, Bunkado and We Are Uprisers as they collaborate with Little Tokyo Florist, Nostalgiana and Panda Express across geography, across history and across industry.

PART ONE — Across Geography: Connecting the borders of historic Little Tokyo

CRFT by Maki and Little Tokyo Florist will release a limited-edition long-sleeve T-shirt and sticker pack on Dec. 17 at a joint one-day event in the CRFT by Maki storefront space on Little Tokyo’s historic First Street. The event will include a DIY Stem Bar from 3 to 7 p.m. where customers will be able to arrange a holiday hand bouquet with purchase.

This will be the second experiential event hosted by the lifestyle brand and flower shop. The Sake Stem Bar, a pop-up experience launched in August 2022, provides beginner ikebana instruction to locals over Japanese sake and snacks. The attendee list is curated to include local residents, fellow small business owners and nonprofit employees to seed an organic forum of  community engagement over local bites and sake.

CRFT by Maki, helmed by Darin Maki, and Little Tokyo Florist (previously Kuragami Florist), co-owned by Yuka Mizusawa and Malina Huang, are both self-operated by the ownership. Handling most of the day-to-day of running a business leaves both new-ish owners ‑ Darin launched in January 2020 and Yuka and Malina took over their shop in early 2021 ‑ with little free time for much else. However, both teams love hosting local events and saw collaboration as a fun community-building opportunity where the intense load of event planning could be shared.

From left: Darin Maki of CRFT by Maki, Little Tokyo Florist’s Yuka Mizusawa and business consultant Mariko Lochridge.(Courtesy CRFT by Maki)

“When you’re a small business owner, you’re working all day and you’re also the accountant and the marketing department and everything, so collaborating lets us all help each other. And that’s for us what community really is. We’re teaching each other and keeping our Little Tokyo community going together,” Yuka shared.

In November 2020 CRFT by Maki launched its first Little Tokyo partnership with First Street North neighbor Anzen Hardware. Both stores put together a merchandise box containing an Anzen Hardware T-shirt, work gloves and an imported Japanese seed packet with proceeds going towards the cost of restoring Anzen’s storefront windows, which were damaged by acid paint graffiti earlier that year.

Then in June 2022 Maki partnered with Suehiro Cafe for a one-day outdoor dining event to celebrate the restaurant’s 50-year anniversary with the release of a limited-edition T-shirt and beer glass.

Both of these projects spurred Maki’s desire to support and preserve the neighborhood’s legacy business cultural gems through original merchandising and digital media storytelling. This Little Tokyo Florist collab marks the first time for the three-year-old small business to collaborate with a more distant legacy business neighbor. 

Melina Huang arranges a menagerie of blooms at Little Tokyo Florist, which she operates with Yuka Mizusawa. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

“I’ve enjoyed working with First Street North businesses but people forget that that part (Little Tokyo Florist) is a part of the Little Tokyo borders too. There’s history there from back when it was Yaohan Plaza,” Maki said.

With the long-awaited 2022 grand opening of the Terasaki Budokan on Los Angeles and Third streets finally complete and Suehiro’s announcement of its newest location coming to the Spring and Winston street intersection, nonprofit and small businesses alike are strategically edging out the shrinking borders of the historic ethnic enclave.

“Sometimes we have to zoom out and see what this neighborhood once was to be inspired to create what’s coming next. With the Budokan community gymnasium and projects like Go For Broke, we can continue to expand our borders and work our way in,” Maki said.

As Maki learns his way around the community as a local small business owner, he’s become increasingly invested in shaping the neighborhood’s future.

“I’ve learned from our history and the elders that it’s all about ownership. I admire organizations like Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund that are strategically looking at how to increase community control of our geography and our history. I think that my part can be supporting Little Tokyo legacy small businesses to have ownership of their own original merchandising.”

Pick up your very own CRFT by Maki x Little Tokyo Florist limited-edition long-sleeve tee on Saturday, Dec. 17. See to pre-order for pick-up while supplies last.


Rafu contributor Mariko Lochridge is a bilingual Japanese/English small business consultant. Follow her on Instagram @LittleTokyoisOpen.

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