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Posted on Jun 2, 2008 | 36 comments

New Bento Store Locator with Google Maps

New Bento Store Locator with Google Maps

After launching the lunchinabox.net site one year ago today, one of the most common questions I hear from people starting to make bento-style lunches is, “Where can I find bento boxes and accessories near me? Do I have to order them online and pay for shipping?” To make it easier for the lunch-packing community to share their knowledge of local stores in a common location, I hired a web developer to create the worldwide Bento Store Locator using Google Maps. This interactive map should help readers quickly find nearby stores that sell bento boxes and accessories, check out feedback from other readers, add new stores to the map themselves, and leave their own comments on individual store entries. (Like a very basic version of Yelp.com, but focused only on bento gear.)

My hope is that the Bento Store Locator (BSL?) will be a handy little tool for discovering local sources of bento boxes and accessories, potentially saving us money that’d we’d otherwise spend on shipping charges from online stores. If there aren’t any bento stores near you, though, I’ve put together an updated list of online stores with bento gear. Check back on the Bento Store Locator from time to time, as I expect the number of stores to grow as people share their finds. (Read on for details and posting guidelines.)


What’s already there?

To start us off, I’ve input the stores from my San Francisco Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear with my comments, a number of stores from the LiveJournal bentolunch community’s geographic shopping guide, some stores from French Bento’s list of bento stores in France, and a few stores I’ve recently read about on different online bento communities.

This is just a start, though — to make this really useful I’d like to ask you to share your local expertise by adding bento stores that you know about, and writing comments right in the Locator with your feedback on local shops that you’ve visited recently. Did a particular store just get in a bunch of unusual boxes or start carrying new accessories? Is someone having a sale this month? Did a store in the Locator stop carrying bento stuff, move, or go out business altogether? Let us know!

Posting Guidelines

  • Please try to be as precise and complete as possible when adding a new store, as I’m the only one who can edit the store listings at the moment (users will be able to edit later on, in Phase II).
  • There are fields for the store name, address, phone number and website. For the website, please enter either the store’s own URL, or the URL for the store’s entry on a reliable review site like Yelp.com or Insider Pages. If the URL you want to enter is too long for the field, try deleting the http:// bit at the beginning, shortening it with TinyURL, or just add it in comments.
  • Comments in languages other than English are fine, but it’d be great if you could also include a short English summary.
  • Try to be constructive in your store comments, letting people know what kinds of bento gear is available at the store, and anything else they might need to know when planning a shopping trip. Signing your comments with your name would be nice, but not required.
  • Edited to add: Please use the search box to check your area, not just the map’s zoom function (the BSL only displays the stores nearest to the location in the search box). Check to see if a store is already listed before adding; I’ve started to see some duplicate entries.
  • Leave a comment below or e-mail me at lunchinabox (AT) gmail (DOT) com with feedback on the tool, bugs, duplicate entries, etc. and I’ll regroup with the developer to address them.

Because I’m not a web developer, I hired one to create this store locator for me, which we’ll roll out in two phases. Why did I split it up? Uh, because development time can get expensive. D’oh! Thanks to everyone for using my affiliate links to support Lunch in a Box when shopping at places like Amazon and J-List anyway; the money from those paid for this new toy!

Phase I: (No registration required to input stores or comments, but only an admin can edit or delete entries.)

  • Search for stores by location, with results displayed on Google Maps.
  • Readers can add new store listings with store name, address, phone number and URL info. Store URLs are not linked, so as to discourage spammers.
  • Readers can add their own comments to any store detail page by clicking the “Store details and comments” link at the bottom of any store’s pop-up information bubble on the map.

Planned for Phase II:

  • Ability of users to edit store details and their comments after they register and log in.
  • Expanded search functionality
  • Integration into WordPress (instead of using frames) to make better use of available space on the screen.
  • Possible integration of online stores, enabling user feedback on each store.
  • Possible store rating system (i.e. scale of 1 to 5 stars?)
  • ??? (Insert your brilliant ideas here.)

36 Comments

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  1. Totally BRILLIANT idea! I’m new to the idea of Bento and the internet is great (aka dangerous) for supplies but getting to see the stuff in person is also lovely. I’ll let you know if I find anything in the Philly Area.

  2. Great idea! I was at Ichiban-Kan in El Cerrito yesterday, and they’ve put out new “Natural Color” boxes.

    HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

  3. @2 from KittyPants: This info is exactly the sort of thing that’d be perfect to add to the Ichiban Kan El Cerrito listing in the BSL — go ahead and click on the “Add a comment” link in the store’s info balloon on the map, and add it to share with everyone! :-)

  4. This is superb! I’ve added some San Diego stores and am looking forward to seeing everyone else’s finds. Considering how many stores there are from SD to the Bay Area, I might need to take a bento road trip!

  5. Saw this on LiveJournal. It’s a good idea, but I have a question:

    Why make it a site specific app instead of just making a collaborative item on ‘maps.google.com’ ? That way entry is much easier on users (you already have the search power of Google) and users can get tools such as route finding and so-on.

    Plus, saves development dollars, as there wouldn’t be any.

  6. Hi – One problem I’ve notice on when I call it up, it defaults to a place in Sweden, every time. Even after I’ve called in my San Jose, CA address. If I use the Go Back link after I look at the comments on a store, I get Sweden Again. My Back Button actually moves back to my San Jose quiry. Something to talk to your web person about.
    But will definitely pass this on to my daughter who lives in Half Moon Bay and eats far too many meals on the run and would like them some of them Not coming from the fast food junk places. Her kids think bento is a fun way to do things too!

  7. @5 from Byron C Zimmer: Honestly, I didn’t know you could make collaborative items on maps.google.com — interesting, thanks for the heads up! Too late for me now, though, but I can have the developer add route finding to the BSL. This way I can potentially keep an eye on spammers & shills, though.

  8. @6 from Lisa Harrigan: The BSL initially loads the location of the store that was most recently added (Sweden, in this case), but I can see how that could be annoying once you’ve put in your address. I’ll run it past the developer. Thanks!

  9. this is an awesome idea!

    what if you know of a store, but they do not supply a website or telephone number?

  10. @9 from mosli: Add it anyway — website and phone number aren’t actually required fields. You might want to Google the store first or plug it into a review site like Yelp.com to see if there’s more complete info on it somewhere, then put all of the info in the listing at once. If not, don’t worry about it; other people can add info in comments afterwards.

  11. thanks Biggie! I just wish I lived in CA! Guess I’ll have to visit soon.

  12. Hi there! I’ve been reading for a while, but haven’t commented before… I love this tool, though I noticed when I added a store it was on there 3 times, so I think others added it around the same time (or maybe I just missed it…) I have a hard time finding stuff in NJ (well, except food :)

    My daughter and I will be doing a Bento 101 Panel at Anime Next even though she’s really a beginner herself. We’re charging $5 (I’m losing money on it! – lol) – everyone is getting a Bento Box, Belt, Bag, an egg mold, a silicone muffin cup, a food pick and we plan to pack a simple Bento Box :)

    Thanks for the site and all the tips and pictures :)

  13. @12 from Tammy: Thanks for the heads up about the store duplication — I deleted the extras, so all should be okay now with that Mitsuwa.

    I’d love to hear how your bento panel goes! I agreed to do something similar at Anime Milwaukee in February 2009, and I haven’t yet settled on exactly what I’d like to do. Any feedback you can offer as to what went over well/not for you would be appreciated so I don’t fall on my face! ;-)

  14. Great idea! I haven’t scoped out good Denver sources yet (H-Mart was a bust). Maybe someone else will help me out with an entry or two.

  15. Hello!
    What a fantastic idea, this is great! I was just wondering if I know of a shop and have used it/bought stuff from it but it doesnt have a website or any reviews of it, can I still add it to the list?
    Also if it sells Japanese stuff but not specifically bento is that ok?

    Thanks

    Nicola x

  16. Great idea, Biggie!!! This will be so much more useful than browsing several different lists. Thanks for providing such a valuable resource!

  17. This is awesome. Another site which is Bento-ish… to-goware.com

  18. Wow, thanks Biggie! I’m one of those that just got into bento after stumbling across your site, and I’ve been frustrated by the lack of supplies in my area. This is a huge help (especially since I can’t access LJ from work, which is where I figure out my daily errands).

  19. @11 from ju: Or keep checking back as people add more stores — one might appear magically near you, you never know!

  20. @15 from Nicola: If it sells bento gear of any sort (boxes, accessories, weird cooking gear, etc.), go ahead and add it even if it doesn’t have a website. If it’s just a Japanese food market but doensn’t sell any bento-related gear at all, you might want to add it to the Japanese grocery list over at Just Hungry instead. But if you can think of any way to make it relevant to the bento equipment aspect, go ahead and add it with a comment of why you’ve added it, and then you could review the Japanese food aspect of the store at the same time.

  21. @16 from dawn: My fingers are crossed that people will add stores and update the Locator with the latest information. A quick look at the database records this morning is telling me that’s happening so far, and with good data. Woo hoo, thanks everyone for helping make this a rockin’ tool!

  22. Here’s something I find really odd: El Cerrito (CA) has two shops for bento items, and Berkeley has Tokyo Fish Market- but the Pacific East Mall in Richmond Annex has nada for bento supplies! I thought for sure one of the shops would have boxes or utensils, but even scouring Ranch 99 there was fruitless. I’m still scratching my head over that.

  23. @14 from Kitt: I just found stores in Denver and put them in — have a look.

  24. THANK YOU SO MUCH. This helps me a lot. :)

  25. Thanks you so much! Great idea!

  26. great resource!

    how’s your brother doing? (i think it was your brother?)

  27. @28 from steamykitchen: Bobby Joe (my cousin, once removed) is out of the hospital and doing well. Hopefully something like that never happens again. Thanks for asking!

  28. So very useful. Thanks! I already found a place I really want to visit. Totally love your site!

  29. Biggie, I wanna ask something. Is the BSL only for stores in USA or everywhere in the world? I live in a small city in Indonesia (in South East Asia) and I know good places for bento sources here in my city, and I’d be glad to help other readers finding a bento-related store nearby…

  30. At first, I bought each of my 4 kids their very own bento box. But then I found more, and bought more…found accessories in Downtown L.A. and found more in San Diego! There’s a Daiso in San Diego! Wow!! I just went crazy over more accessories. ( Btw, I added all the stores I went to in your store locator and commented on some japanese markets that didn’t have any bento stuff at all that was already in your list) I had a blast shopping for Bento stuff this summer (maybe more bento shopping in San Francisco next summer! my husband will go nuts!! haha). Now, my kids just started school just a couple of days ago, and my kid’s friends loved my kid’s lunches. Thanks for helping me make my boring lunches turn into soaring high happy lunches for my kids. Preparing lunches for my kids became one of the highlights of my day. You really are the Rachael Ray of Bento lunches. Hmmm.. How about creating your own show! I’ll be the first one in line to be there.. and be watching everyday! Thanks and best wishes to you and your family.

  31. @35 from d5sgood4cheryl: So happy to hear that the links here helped you to find bento gear you’re happy with. Woo hoo!

  32. There are 5 houses in five different colors
    In each house lives a different nationality.
    These 5 owners drink a certain beverage, smoke a certain brand of cigar and keep a certain pet.
    No owners have the same pet, smoke the same brand of cigar, or drink the same beverage.

    The CLUES:

    The Brit lives in the Red house.
    The Swede keeps dogs as pets.
    The Dane Drinks tea.
    The Green House is on the left of the White House.
    The Green House’s owner drinks coffee.
    The person who smokes Pall Mall rears birds.
    The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhill.
    The man in the center house drinks milk.
    The Norwegian lives in the first house.
    The man who smokes Blends lives next to the one who keeps cats
    The man who keeps horses lives next to the man who smokes Dunhill.
    The man who smokes Blue Master drinks beer.
    The German smokes Prince.
    The Norwegian lives next to the Blue House.
    The man who smokes Blends has a neighbor who drinks water.
    The QUESTION:

    Who owns the fish?

  33. Here’s one to add for San Diego. Officially it’s the First Korean Market but the store just says Oriental Market. 4625 Convoy St. San Diego, CA 92111-2309
    (858) 278-8303

    This is a little hole in the wall store. But it not only had a few low end bentos but also a large family size picnic bento and two Zorushi Bentos: Mr. Bento and Mrs. Bento. Plus some lock lock plastic boxes. I found it had a better selection than 99 Ranch Market and as good as a few of the other markets. Marukai had the largest selection of very low end boxes, plus utensils and other accessories.

    Please add First Korean Oriental Market to your store locator.

    Thanks for the store locator. I’ve been to each one, made notes and now I know where to go for ingredients.

  34. Japanistic.com carries a wide variety of Bento, chopsticks, and kitchen supplies. Almost everything is imported from Japan. Check out the Artemis collection of Bento as it is BPA Free, dishwasher safe, and some of it is even microwavable!