By Jacqueline Quynh

DENVER (CBS4) – Change is coming to Sakura Square. Redevelopment plans are advancing for the historical location in Denver that involve demolition and then rebuilding.

Sakura Square

(credit: CBS)

“They had everything taken away from them yet, they were able to build a business like ours,” sakd Jolie Noguchi of Pacific Mercantile Co., referring to Japanese Americans who started businesses in the area in the mid-20th century.

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Jolie runs the grocery store with her daughter Alyssa.

“A lot of people don’t realize that (they) built this store from nothing when they were coming here to escape internment camps,” Alyssa explained.

Jolie’s grandfather, George Inai, came to Colorado in the 1940s after being interned during World War II. He opened the store, and family members have kept it going for 75 years. Specialties include sashimi and Japanese-made goods. It’s also one of the few supermarkets that exists in the food desert that is the Ballpark District.

“It was an icon, everybody used to come through the back door instead of the front door because Buddhist Temple was right behind us,” Noguchi recalled.

Sakura Square

(credit: CBS)

Over time, Sakura Square’s cultural relevance has been overshadowed by the changing landscape.

“This particular block is particularly significant in that it is what remains of that once-vibrant Japanese community.”

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Gary Yashimita heads the Sakura Foundation, a nonprofit that manages the company which owns the properties. The foundation is working to redevelop the entire area, with a new temple, residential tower, retail and cultural center.

“It’s very important that we continue to maintain, preserve and enhance this special treasure that we have,” Yashimita said.

“You know it makes us nervous,” Jolie admitted.

Tenants like her will have to move for a period until the new square is completed.

“We need the community, we need all of you to help us survive,” she said.

Sakura Square

(credit: CBS)

It’s been hard enough to try to make it through a pandemic, but she has hope.

“It’s going to be so exciting to see what this block will turn out to be,” she added.

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The pandemic has delayed planning, but now it’s back on track.  Groundbreaking could start in 2 years and may take up to 7 years for completion.

Jacqueline Quynh