123 Store: Rebuilding a family business

Posted on Feb 11 2021

123 Store is located inside Winner’s Laundry in Chalan Kanoa near the U.S. Post Office. (Bea Cabrera)

If the name sounds familiar, it should because 123 Store was a popular name that started business on Saipan in the 1980s. It was known for a variety of businesses in Garapan—a convenience store, a gift shop, and at one point a duty free shop. But the downturn of the economy in the 2009-2010 led to the chain’s closure.

Now, a young blood in the family, Sean Lee, has restarted the good reputation the 123 Store brand has built and enjoyed years ago by opening a convenience store along Chalan Kanoa Drive near the U.S. Postal Service.

“After over 10 years, I opened it again at the end of November in 2019 and focused on just a convenience store because that is what the locals need. I got a break when my boss, the owner of White Laundry, offered me an opportunity to open a small store inside the laundromat. The location is ideal, too, because people can buy items here before, during, or after laundry,” he said.

Young entrepreneur Sean Lee went to retail business with the hope that he will be successful in continuing what his father started in the 1980s. (Bea Cabrera)

“Reopening was a little tough because when we first started everything was normal then in March 2020 [the COVID-19] pandemic hit. We had to go through an adjustment period because we had to change operating days and hours and also a lot of people are struggling financially… That was difficult for everyone because it was either they were getting laid off or furloughed from work. I myself was working at another company but I stepped down so I can fully focus on my store,” he added.

123 Store offers the usual items you see in a convenience store, but Lee goes the extra mile to give service to his customers. “We offer a variety of goods, mainly pretty much everything especially what the customers in the laundromat needs like soap, fabric softener, etc. We also have food items if they get hungry like soba and we have a microwave for different microwavable food available in the store,” Lee said

“Having a microwave in the store is a big advantage and ready for customers that need them.. We also have hot water…We also listen to what the customers suggest that we carry in the store. We don’t have a whole lot of frozen food but we have what people ask for like fish, sausages, etc. also local vegetables and fruits depending on the season,” Lee added.

Customers can find all the items they need at 123 Store. (Bea Cabrera)

Lee said the store may be smaller than other groceries but customers are assured that they have everything they need at 123 Store. “We balance what kind of items we sell in the store. We continuously study our market and from there we consider what things do we have to give up and what items are we going to focus on… we’re trying to put more items…having a captured market—the laundromat—is a big opportunity for us and a laundromat having a convenience store inside is a necessity, so it works both ways,” he said.

Lee added that future plans include being able to accept food stamps. “We are in the process of getting our food stamp accreditation so we can help the community. It hurts to turn down customers who are unable to use the stamps in the store… we are hoping to get it by next month. Overall, I want customers to feel ‘wow this kind of place exists!’ and I think we are successful in that. A lot of people come inside and say it’s clean, neat, and it may be compact but most of the things are there.”

123 Store Chalan Kanoa is open from Monday to Sunday, 6am-9pm. For more information, call (670) 235-1231 or visit them on Facebook and Instagram: “123 Store.”

Bea Cabrera | Correspondent
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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