Bill Tatsuda and his daughter, Katherine Tatsuda. • Courtesy Photo
Bill Tatsuda and his daughter, Katherine Tatsuda. • Courtesy Photo

In April, the Alaska Legislature joined the Alaskan communities of Ketchikan and Saxman in honoring the Tatsuda family on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of their grocery store, Tatsuda Grocery.

Founded in Ketchikan in 1916 by Sen and Jimmie Tatsuda, Jimmie’s Grocery was located in “Indian Town” on the south side of Ketchikan Creek. Before the grocery opened, Sen had to walk a long way into town to buy groceries, so she started buying extra goods and selling bread, milk, and eggs to her neighbors. The first grocery was located at 415 Stedman Street with the young family living above the store.  It was a small family operation with all the children helping. The store thrived in part from the patronage of the Native population, who appreciated that this was the only grocery store in town that allowed them to purchase groceries on credit.

At the beginning of World War II, the family was forcibly relocated with other Japanese-Americans to Idaho on very short notice. Sons Charlie, Jimmy, and William, all Ketchikan High School graduates, served in the U.S. Armed Forces while their families were held under guard in relocation camps. The store property was looked after by friends while they were away.   

After the war, the family returned to Ketchikan and their grocery business resumed. Shortly afterward, the store building burned down in January 1947 and the business relocated to 339 Stedman St. Sons William and Jimmy joined the business and later took over when Jimmie Sr. passed away in the 1960s. The store continued to sell groceries to the locals and the fishing fleet and provided mail order groceries to the area’s logging camps.

In 1974, Tatsuda’s 10,000 square foot supermarket opened for business and in 1983, a self-service gas station, “Gas At Last,” was constructed adjacent to the store.  In 1989, the supermarket was again enlarged to accommodate the growing needs of Ketchikan and Saxman residents. William Jr.’s daughter, Katherine Tatsuda, began working for the company in 1996 after graduating from Ketchikan High School. She became a shareholder in 2009, and now is Secretary, Chief Operation Officer and Store Manager.

In 2015, in anticipation of Tatsuda’s 100-Year Anniversary, Tatsuda’s Supermarket underwent a multi-million dollar upgrade. The business currently has 22 full-time employees, and is doing business as Tatsuda’s IGA.

Following a “Never say No” policy regarding requests for donations, Tatsuda’s has contributed to local youth and adult sports programs, school fundraising activities, non-profits of all kinds, and family emergencies. Tatsuda’s offers senior discounts and free delivery to senior citizens who can call in their orders instead of having to come to the store. Tatsuda’s pays 100% of health insurance premiums for its employees and pays above union scale to most of its associates.

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