Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - Three generations of the Itami family currently work in the Kern Park Flower Shoppe. Holly Itami Springfels (l); her grandmother, 92-year old Fumi Itami; and her daughter Kimberly Walker. Walker is in charge of many of the day to day operations.It’s not uncommon to see a few generations carry on the family’s business. But five generations is pretty special, especially when that family has been through what the Itami family of Southeast Portland has endured.

For 99 years, the family has operated what is now the Kern Park Flower Shoppe. Since Sukemon Itami opened a nursery on the site in 1915 it has operated nearly continuously, with two interruptions. The most recent had the business shuttered for about a year, before reopening with fourth-generation Holly Itami Springfels and fifth-generation Kimberly Walker at the helm. Fumi Itami, the 92-year old daughter-in-law of the founder and Holly’s grandmother, works in the shop.

It was the first interruption the business endured that was the hardest. Three generations of the Japanese-American family were among the 120,000 U.S. citizens sent to internment camps. They were sent to Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho with more than 2,300 other Japanese Americans from Multnomah County alone.

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - Even at 92-years old, Fumi Itami has lessons for her granddaughter Holly Itami Springfels and great-granddaughter Kimberly Walker. You dont just cut ribbon, she says. You cut ribbon with purpose.Fumi’s son and Holly’s father Frank, was just six months old when they entered the camp. The family came back to Portland with almost nothing, only to find that their business has been nearly destroyed by vandals during their absence.

“We had to start all over,” said Fumi Itami.

Even after the war, the family had to endure prejudice. Some people would simply not do business with Japanese Americans and some suppliers refused to work with them.

“But there were some very nice people who helped us out,” said Fumi.

Sukemon Itami started the business in 1915 with a series of greenhouses that spanning from 67th to 72nd along SE Holgate Boulevard. By the 1980s, just the flower shop remained, as homes and businesses grew along the now-busy corridor.

The current building was built in 1958. Starting in 1939, Fumi worked in the business from early until late each day. There was a bell on the front of the shop that would ring in her house across the street when a customer arrived. Her grandson Chad took over later and recently transitioned the store to Holly and her daughter Kimberly.

“Our entire family worked here at some point” said Holly.

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - 139:  Granddaughter Holly Itami Springfels asked Fumi Itami, 92, to come into the shop to help out for a couple hours. Now she comes into the shop nearly every day.The business has changed as people have become less formal according to Chad Itami, but the shop still serves events spanning their customer’s lives.

“From babies to funerals,” says Holly, who has done funeral arrangements for the same people her grandmother did wedding flowers for in 1941. “From the time we were born, this is where we’ve been. We all grew up here”

They’ve done flowers for a visit to Portland by Minnie Pearl who later called to thank them. The corsages in the prom scene in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus — all 50 of them — came from the shop.

While Walker brings some more modern floral design techniques to the shop, the families heritage still shines on. “We learn from her everyday,” she says of her great grandmother.

John M. Vincent is a third-generation Oregon journalist. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He welcomes your suggestions for this column.