We first discovered Sun May Co. when we looked out the window of the Wing Luke Asian Museum onto the alleyway called Canton Alley and noticed these red lanterns. Since then it’s become one of our favorite shops in Seattle; not so much because we’ve bought a lot of things from there, but because Sun May Co. is a small store overflowing with old Asian tchotchkes that’s fun rummaging through and Donnie the owner of the store is a knowledgeable, inviting yet soft-spoken man who’ll take his time to tell you the stories and histories behind the lightly dust sprinkled tchochkes.
Last Saturday before heading to the free day at the Wing Luke Asian Museum, which I highly recommend, we popped into Sun May. We were only there for a minute or two when Donnie pointed to a bag full of half a dozen bags of Japanese senbei (rice crackers) and told us to take them. He had bought them for workers who were cleaning the store but said there was too much food. Before we left the store, at his insistence we took two bags of senbei for ourselves and the rest to the front desk workers at the Wing Luke Asian Museum.
Grant found himself an old green jacket for $15 and a tiny gold Maneki cat for good luck. I was drawn to the bottles shown below because of the labels (you can see we’re into cranes). According to Donnie, these bottles once contained potent alcohol that you could only drink very small doses of or else pay the consequence. Grant asked him how much a bottle cost and he politely informed us that they weren’t for sale. We said we understood. But after I told him how much I loved cranes, he immediately said “you can have it.” For a few minutes we went back and fourth between him saying “please, take it” to me saying “no, it’s okay.” We insisted we pay for it, but he refused to take our money. In the end, we left the store, very gratefully, with a bottle. Donnie will be getting a taste of our homemade butter mochi soon.
I’m sure things like this don’t happen regularly, but what I know for sure is that things like this never happen at large chain stores. This kind of personal interaction is the beauty of small family operated shops. It’s not that I have anything against the heavy hitters – they definitely serve their purpose too. It’s just that too many mom-and-pops have been disappearing with increasing rent prices they no longer can afford or being evicted to make room for a modern building, yet these small shops give neighborhoods character and personality and keep the area rooted in history. We need to strike a better balance between updating and preserving.