Japantown San Jose is one of the last three such historical Japantowns in the United States. With a legacy 125 years old, the area has seen a new group of young entrepreneurs opening clothing boutiques, galleries and other creative businesses in the past couple of years. One such indie creative is April Gee, who opened Petite Galleria in 2013 with the motto: “Precious and rare, more tortoise than hare.”
On a recent Friday evening, Japantown’s Jackson St. was lined with pristine classic cars hosted by urban streetwear shop Cukui for the Japantowtown Second Friday Art Walk. A few doors down, Petite Galleria featured a new exhibit of silkscreen prints by Giuliana Maresca. When I asked Gee how her night was going, she laughed and said: “Great! Who knew my audience were lowriders?!”
Although it’s the size of a Hollywood celebrity’s shoe closet, Petite Galleria features hundreds of items by over 50 artisans on any given day. Gee carefully considers each artist she brings in based on their aesthetics and high quality. The factory-made doesn’t appeal to her at all; “I like the idea of supporting people doing what they love,” Gee says. “And I like the idea of gifts that are treasures, less because they are made of gold and diamonds, but because they are handmade by people that love making these things.”
The artful gifts Gee carries include hand-printed cards, jewelry with unique details, up-cycled utilitarian wares such as wallets and magnets, hand-sewn ties, soy candles, tote bags, original paintings and limited-edition prints of varying sizes. Everything in her boutique exudes a certain charm that’s seemingly simple, but obviously the product of an intense labor of love.
It’s good nights like this that make the gallery “minimally sustainable” on its own. “To me, the gallery is like nurturing a garden,” says Gee. The boutique has steadily grown a fan base for the two years it’s been in operation, but still requires a bit of Gee’s personal income made from her other creative pursuit: music.