Sara Kubo, 2023 East San Gabriel Valley JCC queen, models the CRFT by Maki T-shirt celebrating San Gabriel Valley Nursery.

By MARIKO LOCHRIDGE, Rafu Contributor

SAN GABRIEL — San Gabriel Nursery & Florist turns 100 years old this year. It’s a milestone that most American businesses can only dream of and within the Los Angeles Japanese American community only a handful have ever achieved.

To mark the occasion, the two-acre nursery has been sharing its history decade by decade on its Instagram through the lens of its diverse plants and flowers sold over the past 100 years.

It all began when Fred Yoshimura left Japan for California in 1917. He leased a small area of land to start Mission Nursery in 1923. One year later, Fred met and married Mitoko Naito. In 1942, the family was sent to Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona and was forced to sell the nursery as they were being sent away. In 1945, they were released and opened the San Gabriel Nursery & Florist across the street from the original location.

Today, the San Gabriel Nursery (SGN) stands as a pillar of the community. From humble beginnings, SGN has made a long-lasting contribution to Japanese American culture and a legacy of quality plant material and services. 

An Instagram post capture moments in time and is richly illustrated with historical photos that give readers a behind-the-scenes peek into Los Angeles and small business history. The online storytelling format by social media posts is a new venture for the 100-year-old business, which still uses handwritten paper receipts in their store.

An Instagram post introduces a new generation to the legacy business.

A much younger business, three-year-old, Little Tokyo-based CRFT by Maki, provides online campaign support as part of their original merchandise design services for legacy small businesses.

But 100 years is a lot of ground to cover, so the efforts have been coordinated through the Little Tokyo Service Center Small Business Program’s volunteer matching program. Launched during the pandemic to rise to the necessity of getting small businesses online quickly, the program matches community volunteers with legacy small businesses as part of an ongoing effort to build and launch an online presence for historically analog small businesses.

Every collaboration starts with a digital audit to cultivate an updated online presence. Next comes e-commerce with thoughtfully designed merchandise that celebrates community cornerstones. Finally, an in-person experience drives visitors to local mom-and-pops with customer service quality that no big-box giant could ever automate.

San Gabriel Nursery & Florist greenhouses on El Monte Street with family members and employees in the mid-1950s.

For the San Gabriel Nursery & Florist Community Celebration project, a team of Cal State L.A. student interns were matched as part of their requirements for a required service learning project. Over the course of six months, the team has dived deep into local history through the lens of small business. Their research is the foundation of the digital campaign that delivers bite-size history on a platform designed for digital natives like themselves.

The team has also met in person at San Gabriel Nursery with co-owner Mary Ishihara Swanton several times for tours and interviews in order to know the business first-hand from someone that has learned experience of working there for the past 30 years.

“It’s been a pleasure working with the student interns from Cal State Los Angeles, who have helped us with our social media posts and signage,” Swanton says. “I enjoy sharing our company’s history with them, many of whom were not familiar with the many decades before they were born or the Japanese American experience during World War II. Even simple things like old telephone numbers that started with letters or a time of not having plastic nursery containers was new to them.

Yoshimura family photo in San Gabriel Nursery garden. From left: Fred Waichi, Mitoko, Florence, Hayao, Raymond and Maggie.

“I also learned new terminology and technology from them and most of all, loved their energy and enthusiasm in discovering facts about our history and the plants that we carry.”

And this intergenerational knowledge-sharing goes both ways. The project has given its student interns insight into small business and community-building that they have never been exposed to before.

“Volunteering and interning with small businesses through LTSC has been an incredible learning experience for me,” says Katie Chung, a sophomore at Cal State L.A. “I have gained skills in graphic design, which is something I had never done before. I’ve also been able to see the inner workings of a business, as well as the incredible effort and time needed by a team to promote and run an event like this. It’s helped me to trust in myself as well as those I work with.

“Overall, I’ve really enjoyed being able to see how important legacy businesses are to the community. This experience has encouraged me to support Asian American owned businesses myself and commit to their growth.”

Mission Nursery float in the City of San Gabriel Parade.

To amplify the San Gabriel Nursery centennial celebration, CRFT by Maki owner Darin Maki has shared his platform of 7,000 Instagram followers with the student interns so that they could easily upload the social media posts created for the online campaign, and analyze the impact of their digital marketing efforts. Maki has been meeting with the students weekly leading up to the in-person event in order to provide feedback and insight both as a Japanese American and Angeleno but also as a small business owner.

And while his small business may be younger than SGN, he’s learning a lot about digital marketing and social media too.

“Working with the CSULA volunteers has been a refreshing experience,” says Maki. “Getting to work with future leaders and a 100-year-old business, it doesn’t get any better as we all learned so much from each other. I can see how SGN’s history and story gave the students a lasting impression. They were captivated with the same feelings of inspiration I had when I began learning about the amazing stories that are right here in our community.

San Gabriel Nursery & Florist today.

“It was exciting for me to be a witness to that process and great to see them put those learnings into real life application by supporting SGN with an expansion of their digital presence.”

From humble beginnings, SGN has made a long-lasting contribution to Japanese American culture and now a lasting impression on four Cal State L.A. students as well.

You can meet these volunteers and the owners of San Gabriel Nursery as well as CRFT by Maki at the community appreciation event on Saturday, June 17, at San Gabriel Nursery, 632 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel. Pre-sales for the “Blooming Since 1923” limited anniversary pack close on Monday, May 29, at midnight. You can learn more about the anniversary pack and community appreciation event at


Mariko Lochridge is a bilingual consultant who is passionate about trains, dinosaurs and small business. You can find her online @LittleTokyoisOpen on Instagram or pulling a red wagon at San Gabriel Nursery & Florist.

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