Former site of well-loved Downtown Eastside barber shop to house Sikh charity work in Vancouver

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Wilfredo Blanco discovered Mee Lai Barber Shop many years ago while he was out on a stroll.

      The Vancouver resident happened to pass by the 245 East Hastings Street shop, and saw cops inside for a hair cut.

      At the time, the Vancouver Police Department was headquartered nearby at 312 Main Street.

      “I thought that if police officers are having their trim there, then the barber must be good,” Blanco recalled in a phone interview with the Straight.

      He returned one day for a cut, and was pleased.

      Blanco became a regular, and developed an acquaintance with George Leong, the proprietor.

      The affable Leong has run Mee Lai Barber Shop for a long time, and was known for his easy banter.

      “It was always a pleasure sitting down on George’s chair,” Blanco said.

      The barber was particularly proud of his children and grandchildren.

      For his part, Blanco would go on to tell his friends about Leong, and they started coming to Mee Lai as well.

      Leong would often give discounts to fathers who brought along their young sons for a trim.

      Through his stories, Leong shared his deeply held values about the importance of education, hard work, and strong family ties.

      Last year, 245 East Hastings Street was purchased by Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen Society, a Sikh charity that serves free meals.

      The Downtown Eastside property sold for $1,525,000.

      Guru Nanak’s has applied with the City of Vancouver to change the use of the address from retail and dwelling to social services.

      The Sikh charity plans to serve free food from the location Saturdays and Sundays, from noontime to 3 p.m.

      In a letter that forms part of the development application, Guru Nanak’s representative Roveen Kandola indicated that the charity intends to increase the days of its service.

      Kandola also related that the charity currently serves free meals to people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside through a food truck.

      City hall will accept comments from the public about Guru Nanak’s application until August 10.

      On its social media site, Guru Nanak’s recalls that the concept for its free-meal program was developed in the summer of 2007.

      It cited the “practice of langar – the communal kitchen and seva – the selfless service of humanity; philosophies taught by our first Guru, Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji many hundreds of years ago”.

      “For the Sikh community, this project is not missionary in nature, instead it is an opportunity for us to extend this true Sikh spirit of helping those in need regardless of caste, colour, creed, and economic status.”

      In the phone interview, Blanco recalled that he has observed that Mee Lai closed shop when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

      Blanco passed by the former Mee Lai Barber Shop on Wednesday (July 28), and remembered Leong.

      “I will miss George and his stories, that’s for sure,” Blanco said.

      Georgia Straight staff members may find familiar a white-and-blue business card tacked beside the mirror inside the former Mee Lai Barber Shop.