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Bar, eatery suppliers in Tokyo hit hard by COVID-19 emergency turn to new biz chances

An employee of Fuji Hyou-Shitsu prepares to deliver ice in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, on May 3, 2021. (Mainichi/Natsuki Nishi)

TOKYO -- Many restaurants and bars serving alcohol in Tokyo have closed or shortened their hours under the state of emergency in the capital, and this has taken its toll on the businesses that depend on these eateries. Under ongoing efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been strong calls for public compensation that factors in individual businesses' circumstances. In the meantime, some enterprises have turned to new business opportunities.

    Ice manufacturer Fuji Hyou-Shitsu located in the capital's Shibuya Ward provides pure and transparent ice to around 1,400 bars in central Tokyo. But with more and more clients temporarily shutting down, its sales of ice have dropped to less than half of what they were before the pandemic.

    The Japanese government has prepared a scheme to pay individual proprietors up to 100,000 yen (about $910) and small and midsize companies up to 200,000 yen a month as compensation, and will start accepting applications for the funding from June at the earliest. But even if Fuji Hyou-Shitsu qualifies it will not be enough to cover its sales losses. Hiroshi Uematsu, 58, a representative of the ice maker, grumbled, "If our clients remain closed or continue these short hours, we can't stay afloat. The funding scheme should be designed to fit each need."

    Meanwhile, the Sasaki liquor wholesaler in Shinjuku Ward plans to start a new business of transporting freight by utilizing the roughly 40 trucks it has been using to deliver merchandise. The wholesaler will apply for the mandatory license and hopes to begin its new business in June. It expects that its main clients will be its rival liquor wholesale dealers, and it will deliver primarily to eateries in the northern part of Saitama Prefecture adjacent to Tokyo. Sasaki's president, Minoru Sasaki, 66, commented, "We're facing an unprecedented crisis. I have to take up new challenges to protect my employees."

    Tokyo Suzuran is a company based in the city of Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, and specializes in leasing wet towels, or "oshibori," to eateries. Since February this year, the company has been offering laundry services for chefs' uniforms and other items, and in April started to sell acrylic boards to clients, which are used as protection measures at tables in eateries. These new undertakings now account for 10% to 20% of its income. General manager Yukie Ikenoya, 49, says, "We want to latch onto new business chances that in turn will solve the community's needs."

    Another wholesale dealer that has ventured into a new business is Green House Tokyo Co., located in Tokyo's Ota Ward. Originally catering to hotels and wedding halls by offering pre-cut vegetables, the company experienced a decline in demand and opened a shop to sell leftover vegetables in a bid to survive last November. Sales manager Kyohei Maejima, 33, pledges to make it "a store that makes people in the community happy."

    (Japanese original by Shintaro Iguchi and Shotaro Kinoshita, Tokyo City News Department)

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