A sign put up recently on the front door of Mutual Fish carried news that no Seattleite ever wanted to hear: The seafood store, which introduced many innovations to the Seattle seafood scene and inspired generations of professional chefs and home cooks, is closing forever on Saturday, September 16.
“It was pretty much a last-minute decision,” Harry Yoshimura, who runs Mutual Fish with his son Kevin, tells Eater Seattle. “We’ve been thinking about it for a few months. We finally decided it’s good to do it now as opposed to during the holiday time because that makes it harder for everybody.”
Harry, who is 80 years old, says that the labor shortage and the impact of COVID-19 on the business contributed to the Yoshimura family’s decision to close, as did the difficulty of sourcing fish due to climate change–caused alterations in ocean temperature and currents. But he also cites concerns over nearby shootings and homelessness.
“There’s more homeless people around and things like that,” he says. “People getting shot up the street up there.” He adds that it wasn’t the homeless people themselves who were causing violence, but says customers were “leery” about them.
“There haven’t been many positive things going on in this whole area down here,” he says, noting the rash of violent crimes that have targeted Asian Americans in their South Seattle homes. “Beacon Hill is real bad now.”
Mutual Fish was founded by Dick Yoshimura, a nearly legendary figure who began working in Seattle fish markets in the 1930s when he was a teenager, according to a 2012 Seattle Times obituary. He was sent to internment camps along with the rest of the country’s Japanese Americans during World War II, but had such a strong reputation for hard work that he was immediately rehired after being freed. In 1947, he and his brother bought the company Main Fish Company, changed the name, and opened up on 14th Avenue and Yesler Way.
That Times obit details the long hours Dick put in, often working from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mutual Fish became known for its high standards. It was one of the first fish shops in Seattle to have a tank for live shellfish and also was a trailblazer in flying fish in from California and Hawaii. It became a go-to for many Seattle chefs: In 2012 Seattle Magazine wrote, “They could pick up the phone, talk to a familiar voice, entrust their menu’s seafood selections to Mr. Yoshimura and the reliability of Mutual Fish’s offerings.”
“It always impressed me the way they run their business, the way they treated everyone like their family — it just felt like people I wanted to do business with,” restauranteur Tom Douglas told the Times in 2012.
The shop moved to its current location on Rainier Avenue in the 1960s. Harry began hanging out at the shop when he was just 10 years old and took on many administrative duties in the ‘80s, but even in retirement Dick sometimes came back for shifts into his 90s, impressing the other workers with his still-sharp knife skills.
Now that Harry himself is retiring, he’s not sure what he’s going to do with his time. “Maybe get another job or something? I can’t stay inactive,” he says. Harry left open the possibility that the family might open another business “if we get some new ideas or something.”
In the short term, though, he has a challenge that a lot of Seatteites are going to face in the coming months: Where is he going to get fish for holiday celebrations? “That’s one of my main problems right now,” he says. “I’m not quite sure where to go.”