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Chuo Park Avenue offers plenty of exotic

Date Posted: 2001-08-22

Okinawa City’s Chuo Park Avenue, formerly known as B.C. Street has gone through a considerable facelift over the past few years. Once known as the scene of rowdy GIs and girlie bars, it fell on hard times, went through an extensive renovation project, but still did not manage to compete with newer shopping districts in Mihama and Awase and attract customers and new businesses.

The biggest problem, besides its seedy reputation, was the lack of parking. Also, the shops in the area largely offered merchandise that the newer shop sold at cheaper prices and more easily accessible locations.

However, thanks to innovative approach of the local merchants’ association and Okinawa City Chamber of Commerce, the area has slowly changed itself. Although it still has many shuttered storefronts, it also has new, vibrant shops and establishments that hold promise for the future. Specialty and originality is the keyword. Goods and products from exotic countries you cannot find anywhere else on the island, improved parking facilities, and new innovative approach to the concept of shopping are the tools that local merchants are employing in their fight to come back. For example, most of the small shops now offer coffee, drinks and small meals on the side combining the concept of a shop and café. Also, the merchants’ association and some individual businesses on the area organize concerts and other street events that attract and entertain shoppers and, hopefully, bring more.

A new industrial project has come into place to promote business and entertainment in Okinawa City. This project has been improving the quality of business in the area for the past year and has helped a few fresh businesses get off to a running start. The main focus of the project is on shops, events, and local media. To promote the development of new, unique shops in the area, the Okinawa City Chamber of Commerce is holding two competitions. “The Dream Shop Challenge” is held twice a year with the winning business receiving free rent for its shop and an apartment in the Koza area plus $5,000. The first deadline for 2001 is the end of August, and the second deadline is between September 1 and the end of 2001.

O-Piexe, an intimate Brazilian Café on Park Avenue, was the first winner of the contest, and recently, the e.co room, also on Park Avenue, won the third competition. The challenge shop competition has been accepting ideas for new shops, and the winning shop owners receive six months of free rent on their shop. This competition chooses from many unique international shops and picks up whichever will most likely bring more business into the area.

In hopes of promoting Okinawa City's many musical talents and events, Dream Studio will host a free concert or live show twice a month starting in September. On Sep. 15, Valtinho, a Brazilian Bossa Nova musician who performed at this year's Peaceful Love Rock Festival, and has been performing nightly at O-Piexe, will be performing alongside O-Piexe's samba team, oldies band Jambalaya, and Johnny Ginowan. The next day, Makoto Live, Stevie, and a country band from the Blue Lighting Association will perform. Dream Studio is an interesting venue because it gives many of the local bands a chance to perform and be heard by the general public for free. If you have a band or are a solo act and would like to rent the place for a performance, drop by the Okinawa City Chamber of Commerce. They will give you some paperwork to fill out, but don't fear they have an English translation for musicians who are unable to read the local language. From here, you have two options: You can either use Dream Studio as a practice studio, or if you are ready to perform, you can use it as a live house, but bands are not allowed to charge admission. The Okinawa City Chamber of Commerce would like to add that the American community is welcome to use Dream Studio. All bands wishing to use the venue will have to pay ¥2,000 for electricity from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Other rates and conditions may apply for other time slots.

Finally, the Okinawa City Chamber of Commerce will purchase a timeslot on a local radio station for a live show to promote the area's media. Other development projects planned in the vicinity, most notable the Okinawa City Music Market project scheduled to be completed in 2003, will help further. Perhaps, it is not yet time to count Chuo Park Avenue out. Following are samples of some of the shops that prove the new Chuo Park Avenue to be a place worth for a visit.

Indoya and Swagat
Indoya and Swagat are two of the most interesting shops along Chuo Park Avenue for purchasing unique Indian items such as incense, jewelry, clothing, henna powder, and bindi paint. If you are looking for the perfect gift for a friend who is intrigued by the Eastern styles of India, you will certainly find something of value in one of these two stores.

Victor, the owner of Indoya, came to Okinawa from Jaipur, India in 1972 when he was 20 years old to start a new life for himself. Two years later, he opened an American Tailor shop that was in business for 12 years from 1974 to 1986. Changing with the times, Victor transformed his business into a new store, Indoya, or Victor's Fashions, and has been in that business since. According to Victor, B.C. Street is going through some of the toughest times he has ever seen. "So many shops have closed down in the past year because of a lack of parking. Business has gone down. Mihama has parking, toilets, and huge department stores, it is hard for B.C. Street to compete," he says. Mihama might have huge parking lots and department stores, but B.C. Street is still an excellent spot to take a stroll, and you can find just about anything you are looking for while wandering down this strip.

Indoya has quite a selection of unique items for you to pour over if you are pondering what to buy for a special friend as a gift or for yourself as a decoration for your room. I was most impressed and intrigued by the store's collection of glossy Hindu posters, each of which seemed to grab my attention and tell a story. I found myself asking Victor who many of the characters were and he would not hesitate to fill me in. He noted that he flies to India and other countries every two or three months in search for new items to add to his inventory. The store has a large supply of incense cones, sticks, and burners, all ranging from between ¥200 and ¥780. You can also purchase henna paste for ¥280, or you can make your own colors by buying henna powder for ¥1,000. Henna paste has been used in many cultures for the past 5,000 years as a temporary tattoo coloring agent and has become popular in America in the past few years. If you're looking for Indian clothing, the store is having a sale, selling everything in stock for 30% off until the end of August.

Swagat is very similar to Indoya and is located on the same side of the street a few blocks down. This store deals more with female clothing and styles but is an interesting store to check out, regardless, especially if you are looking for a unique gift for your girlfriend or spouse. This store is run by Victor's wife and is currently having a big sale, selling women's clothing for 20-50% off!

Both of these stores are located within walking distance from Kadena Gate 2. Park Avenue has a lot of other interesting shops and café's for you to drop by. For more information on Indoya, call 098-938-1320, and on Swagat, call 098-939-1522.

e.co room
Without a doubt, e.co room is by far one of the nicest cafés I have been to on island, but the business fills more of a niche than just serving delicious food to hungry shoppers. The e in e.co stands for ‘exhibition.’ This small business has an exhibition, which displays many of the island's artwork and pottery as well as other forms of artwork. The c in e.co stands for café, one of the most open and relaxing I have found in the Gate 2 or Park Avenue area. The o in e.co stands for office.

According to the owner, Yasutaka Taida, an architect of 10 years, e.co room also specializes in interior design and custom furniture. In fact, if you're thinking of remodeling your house and need some tips, e.co room was designed completely by Taida, so check it out to see what he can do for you. The e.co room was the winner of this year's Chuo Park Avenue Contest, a contest that awards businesses in the area for opening up a shop that will promote commerce and bring more locals, tourists, and foreigners into the area.

If you are looking for a delicious mid-afternoon lunch after a day of shopping on Gate 2 Street or Park Avenue, you must give the e.co room a try. Their meals are very affordable and very delicious. They have four set meals, which include food and a drink. The Indian set includes chicken curry and Orion beer and costs ¥850, the European set includes your choice of pasta and wine for ¥850, the Chinese set includes of fried rice and beer for ¥900, and the Shima, or Okinawan, set includes seafood and awamori for just ¥700. If you are just dropping by for a drink, a cup of coffee ranges from between ¥600 and ¥800, a beer costs between ¥500 and ¥650, a cocktail costs between ¥550 and ¥650, and a glass of wine ranges from ¥500 and ¥900 per glass, or you can purchase it by the bottle for ¥2,000 to ¥3,600. The e.co room is open from Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Saturdays it stays open until midnight. Also, on Saturdays the e.co room plays movies, and they even accept movie requests from customers. However, they are closed on Thursdays. Finally, if you plan on dropping by for a meal or a drink, this business only accepts yen, so come prepared.

The e.co room is by far a one of a kind café--one of the finest I have found on Okinawa. While enjoying a delicious meal, your mood will mellow to the background of contemporary jazz and bossa nova. If you're looking for a place to come by yourself for a drink while thinking or studying, or if you're looking for a meal and light conversation with a close friend, you can't go wrong with giving the e.co room a visit. The setting is very fashion oriented and very clean, yet the business maintains a relaxing, open feel. The food and drinks are delicious and the atmosphere is outstanding.

Asian Flavors
Right next door to Dream Studio, Asian Flavors Crafts, Café and Gallery is another interesting café/gallery to check out while wandering Park Avenue. Specializing in handmade crafts from many of Okinawa's finest artists, Asian Flavors is host to a small art gallery featuring a different artist each month. Koji Sato, an Okinawan artist who has made exquisite clocks, benches, lamps, and other goods using little more than wood and glue, is currently on display until the end of the month. The store also sells many handmade crafts from other local artists. I especially took an interest in the creative imagination of Mr. Nakasone, an artist who has done many interesting paintings that sometimes portray Okinawan folklore and other times are simply images of characters and scenes from the abstract, extremely imaginative mind of the artist. Mr. Yoshioka is another artist of interest who has taken washed up coral pieces and managed to transform them into exquisite lamps and other items.

Asian Flavors opened for business on January 28, 2001. Their hours are from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday, but they are closed on Thursdays. If you're looking to drop by for a drink during a busy day of shopping, their coffees range from between ¥400 and ¥450, hot and iced tea is ¥400, soft drinks are only ¥200, and an Orion beer costs ¥500. Their food is also very affordable. Sandwiches range from ¥350 and ¥500, or you can add coffee or tea to the mix for just ¥200 more. Cake costs ¥250, or you can purchase a cake set with coffee or tea for ¥550.

This store has many handcrafted items on display for you to check out, and they make perfect gifts for any occasion. You can purchase paintings, glasses, woodcrafts, toys, lamps, clocks, postcards, key chains, and jewelry by many of Okinawa's talented artists. Most items on display are themed around Okinawa's legacy, history, and culture. Asian Flavors is by far one of the most interesting shops on the strip. For more information, call 098-934-3401.

Coming Soon! Ten new shops to open in Park Avenue!
The latest news has it that ten new shops will open in Chuo Park Avenue and the surrounding shopping districts. Three new shops will open on Park Avenue, including an Asian import shop, a Thai bodywork shop, and a bag shop selling items made by quality fashion designers.

Palmila Street, the small strip between Park Avenue and Ichibangai -- the shopping arcade near the end of Gate Two Street -- will see four new businesses to open in the area including a skateboard and used clothing shop, a café using only Philippine products, a takoyaki shop using only Okinawan ingredients, and an independent label high fashion shop featuring work designed by artist Takuya Nakamura.

Another Asian import shop will open on highway 330, and Gate 2 Street shoppers should be pleased with the addition of a new live house and French restaurant.

All of these new businesses are scheduled to open by the end of September and should add to the look and feel of the area as well as improve the quality of the shopping experience. The Koza area is going through a significant upgrade. Be on the lookout for more and more businesses opening up in the following months.

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