When the majority of couples want to commit to each other they get engaged. Hiromi Yoshinaga and Zeb Whitehead got a business instead.
“We joke about getting this instead of rings,” Whitehead said about the Zutto Vintage and Antiques on the water side of downtown at 164 Bjune Drive SE.
They met through online dating 1 1/2 years ago. He has three kids, and she has a daughter; they all live in the area. She had owned several online businesses in Japan before coming to the states in 2005.
Yoshinaga, of Bainbridge Island, and Whitehead, of Seabeck, took over the store Sept. 1. Whitehead is retired military, but works as a mechanic on the shipyards. Yoshinaga worked in the North Kitsap School District as a secretary and paraeducator in Poulsbo.
She started looking for other opportunities when she was furloughed due to COVID-19. She collects antiques – anything from mid-century to modern – “anything that catches my eye or is unique,” she said. She had been selling antiques at Meli Melo for three years.
After buying it, they changed the name to Zutto, which means “for eternity” in Japanese in honor of their long history on Bainbridge Island. That includes the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and how the islanders supported them.
“Thankfully, in many cases neighbors and friends stepped up and took care of these things until they were released over three years later,” Yoshinaga says in an email. “Zeb and I want to continue that legacy and show the true community spirit of Bainbridge Island that still thrives on Winslow Way today.”
Yoshinaga said she became interested in old stuff as a child since her dad was an antique dealer.
“I remember going dumpster diving together” looking for treasures, she said with a laugh, adding she spent half of her early years in Japan and half in Vancouver, B.C.
Whitehead said he’s new to the business, although he grew up in a 100-year-old plantation-style house with old living quarters below. “There were a lot of artifacts there,” he said.
Yoshinaga said all of the 28 vendors stayed when they took over, and while business was slow at first things have gotten better.
“Lately it’s picking up, and it should get better during the holidays,” she said. “We’re getting a lot more foot traffic from the ferry.”
One key is letting people know where it is. Since it’s on the back side of Winslow Way, “I didn’t even know it was here,” Whitehead said.
Mothers like to shop there. “Moms come to take a break and get away from schooling” their kids at home, Yoshinaga said.
Zutto has a classy look to it. “She’s our decorator,” Whitehead said of Yoshinaga, who has a design background with interior decorating.
”Each vendor brings a unique style and a sense of creativity that brings life to the store. Hiromi has a brilliant eye for vintage and antiques. With the help of our lovely staff, she has transformed the store into a world of wonders,” Zeb says in the email.