Ichiban Kan USA to close their online business, but other online bento supply merchants are doing fine
One of the major online sources for bento boxes and other supplies, Ichiban Kan USA, will be closing their mailorder business down as soon as they sell out their existing stock. To quote part of the announcement from their official blog:
Ichiban Kan has been hit by the recent economic situation, and it has been determined that there is no way to continue the online store at this time.
While we do hope to re-establish our online presence in the future when a better financial situation arises, we will be indefinitely closed.
This is sad news indeed, especially for bento fans in the U.S. While they haven't been in the online business for long, Ichiban Kan was a great source for inexpensive bento goods and other Japanese products. They say that that they will continue to operate their brick and mortar stores in the San Francisco area.
I contacted some other popular online bento supply sellers to see how they were doing in the current economy, and the good news is that they seem to be doing very well. Here's what they said.
Peter Payne of J-List.com (and the PG-version, JBox.com): "J-List/JBOX is frankly doing great, selling more Hello Kitty onigiri sets and bento boxes than we can restock, even in the soft economy. I think the fact that we have so many items, including fun but inexpensive items for people to choose from, is helping us. "
Sofia Takami of From Japan With Love: "We are doing very well, and are always adding cool and unique items to our bento section and happily ship to anywhere in the world!"
Thomas Bertrand of Bento&Co also says that they are doing very well and continuing to develop and grow their business; they are already shipping to North America regularly despite the fact that they are still working on an English version of their site. (To quote him directly: "Bento&co continue son développement. Pour l'instant, le site n'est qu'en français, mais cela nous permet d'apprendre et de nous professionnaliser avant une ouverture en anglais pour un meilleur service." Things always sound better in French, don't they?)
So I think there's no reason for bento box and accessory fans to worry about their sources drying out. I personally believe that it's well worthwhile splurging on a cute or beautiful bento box or two that you'll enjoy using every day. Even if your budget is too tight to buy cute bento things, you can start out with basic, inexpensive airtight boxes that you can buy in any household good store. See Selecting the right bento box for more ideas.
Do keep in mind that you'll be saving money overall by bringing your own, healthy lunches instead of eating out or buying fast food and takeout. There have been several articles in the Japanese press recently about more people taking homemade bentos to work because of the economy. Bentos are great for saving money in these tough economic times!