‘Friends’ help him survive the LRT

Luigi Lavecchia and Bill Burgbyne
Long-time customer Bill Burgoyne moved along with barber Luigi Lavecchia when he had to close the Leaside Barber Shop, at Sutherland and Eglinton, after owning it for 36 years. Lavecchia now works at Mr. Barber Lounge on Eglinton. Photo: Patricia Phenix

“I’m 65, but I tell people I was really born in 1967, the year I came to Canada,” says irrepressibly jovial barber Luigi Lavecchia, known as Lui to his customers.

Lavecchia’s good humour is remarkable considering that within the last month his business, the Leaside Barber Shop, operating at 423 Sutherland for 36 years, was forced to close due to rent increases and LRT construction nearby.

“The landlord expects the LRT to be some kind of big financial windfall for businesses on the strip, so he wanted to raise the rent by 50 percent,” says Lavecchia, adding that he is just one in a long line of business owners that have gone under due to the high amounts being asked. “The pharmacy at the corner closed because of them, and so did Cleopatra’s hair salon,” he says.

Coupled with high rents, Lavecchia estimates that in its final months his shop was losing up to $200 to $300 a week in foot traffic after Metrolinx placed a bright orange, silo-sized underground access facility right in front of it, totally obscuring it from view and cutting traffic off from Sutherland.

Neighbouring businessman Niraz Adhikari, the owner of Mt. Everest restaurant at 804 Eglinton East, understands what Lavecchia is going through. Due to the lack of any parking on the street from rapid transit construction, he has seen the amount of diners plummet. As a result, he has sought compensation for his losses.

Rollian Restaurant in the Sunnybrook Plaza also finds itself empty at night due to Eglinton being reduced to one lane each way.

While he may no longer have his own shop, Lavecchia continues to thrive as a barber by moving to Mister Barber Lounge at 814 Eglinton East. His loyal clients, or “friends” as he refers to them, immediately followed him because of his likeability and skill.

“He even made housecalls,” says David Welton, a customer for over 10 years.

On his first visit to the shop, Welton tried to describe which house he lived in on Laird.

Before he could finish, Lavecchia interrupted him and asked, “The house with the black door?”

Welton nodded yes.

Lavecchia said, “I used to cut the hair of an old guy at that house.”

“You don’t get people who run small businesses like that now,” says Welton.

John Phenix, a customer of over 30 years, agrees. “He’s the friendliest guy I’ve ever met in my life,” he says, adding, “He’s very old school and takes his time with customers.”

Lavecchia has always known what it’s like to face a challenge. Born in Pisticci, Italy, he emigrated to Canada in 1967, where he found the going tough, especially learning English.

“I relied on my customers to help me,” he says. “In the beginning I had to ask them to count out change I owed them using their fingers.”

By 1968 he cut hair at an Eglinton barbershop, as well as pumped gas on Sundays and washed dishes at a restaurant on Mondays.

In was 1979 when he took ownership of the Leaside Barber Shop and became a neighbourhood fixture.

“I’m the last of the originals on the street,” he says.

It’s hard to disagree with him.