Somewhere between Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood and a Spike Lee movie is East Vancouver’s Shop Wrong.
Dressed in their sardonic gear and surrounded by the raw materials of their furniture trade, co-owners Luis Galvan, 29, and Rob Geary, 30, sit on their stoop invoking Hastings Street travellers with pleasantries and Shop Wrong pins.
It’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbour” minus the gentrification; Do The Right Thing minus the racial tension.
What remains for the friends and self-professed graduates of the school of hard knocks, who met as teens while tagging in Edmonds tunnel, is street cred with serious good intentions.
Geary and Galvan, along with Galvan’s older brother Will, opened Shop Wrong as a way to give back to the community that they grew up in. It acts as the headquarters of their more widely known endeavour, Welcome to Eastvan Moving, and its big, black, ‘punny’ sidekick, The East Van.
Coffee (free to anyone who needs a warm drink) travels from the back of the shop to the sidewalk in vessels that read, “I went to eastvan and all I got was mugged.” Above the reclaimed wood shelving — lightly populated by merch from local artisans — spin lacquered shards that warn “Danger Eastcide” alongside poison’s trademark skull and cross bones.
It’s all word play for the extroverted creatives, whose passion for their ‘hood is evident in the jokes they swap like vendors at the Sunday street market and in the first-name greetings they give and receive every few minutes outside.
The Galvan family arrived at Grant and Renfrew by way of El Salvador 22 years ago; Geary grew up on Hastings. They became friends in high school, and went their separate ways for a few years before collaborating around 2010 on the moving company.
In addition to welcoming customers to the neighbourhood, single moms and people in need of a little assistance are given a hand with moving days, and truckloads of furniture have been donated to Ray-Cam community centre nearby.
Through Shop Wrong, First Nations youth take part in free carving and language workshops, street workers model in the occasional runway show and artists enjoy an unconventional gallery space to display their work.
Recently, a dozen friends of Luis’ 12-year-old daughter learned how to make custom screen-printed T-shirts (an undertaking that stretched every inch of his chaperoning ability).
“It’s a community scenario,” says Luis, a jovial John Belushi-like charmer. “It’s been good for her to see all this influition.” He interrupts his English lesson to hail a woman walking by in one of their All My Relations shirts.
Inside, the sense of place continues.
Double height walls hoist wooden heritage signage from the store’s Groceteria days, blaring advertisements louder than the shop’s ubiquitous reggae.
The space, located at Hastings and Vernon, was most recently a general store that sold penny candy when they were kids. Not an obvious retail spot, it can be hard to discern exactly what is decorative and what is for sale.
“I ask myself that sometimes, too,” says Will with a friendly grin. “I ask these guys. Some of these things don’t even have tags.”
Shop Wrong, a play on the Shop Rite sign they discovered under the layers out front, had served as their woodworking studio and hangout for a few years before they finally cleaned it out and opened their doors as an artist collective last March.
“I’m not a woodworker, you know what I mean?” says Luis. “Fuck, I own a moving company and we do this to sort of get our artistic side out. We’re all artists.”
The shop produces refined custom woodwork and welding, jewelry, clothing and accessories. Luis is a DIYer, Rob (the No. 1 irreverent answer-giver) is hailed as the mind behind the esoteric art, Will is great with customers, and their mom helps in the store when they’re out on moving calls.
“It’s a great social experiment,” says Luis’ girlfriend Jennifer Scott, an in-demand interior design consultant who met the guys through the moving company. “It’s a rotating space for artists, which there’s not a lot of right now. It’s hard to get into galleries and get exclusive. They come from the East Van graffiti world, so all of their friends are still doing amazing things. It’s great to see a different form of art being promoted at such a confident level.”
The shop is currently accepting submissions for Wildlife, a book (funded by a neighbourhood arts grant) that will celebrate various expressions on the urban fauna theme.
“It works perfectly,” says Rob. “We have the store to open up to the people of the community. It’s not just our store. You don’t need to put it on a big sign and say. ‘I’M EAST VAN!’ Just come check it out.”
Today, Luis and Rob lounge on some lumber in the sunshine, chuckling with neighbouring business owners such as Tom Small from Tom’s East Vin about the putting green and golf clubs that mysteriously showed up overnight.
Everything they use to build their magazine-featured industrial furniture has been donated, but this gesture is appreciated on a more basic level.
Endearingly self-promotional without being exploitative, the businessmen and self-taught tradies embody an adolescent joy of life that has built a trust with the residents of the Downtown Eastside.
Rob grows serious, however, when asked when he became aware of the need for outreach. “Growing up here, we were those guys that needed that community outreach and there weren’t really a lot of venues [for that]. Now we’re in this position where we can provide it. We’re all equal; you can afford to come to our workshop? You can’t? It’s alright. Come hang out, do some screen printing, do some woodwork, do some welding.”
By giving a voice to the people of a neighbourhood in transition, Shop Wrong has become an incubator for social empowerment.
“This isn’t going to be here forever; we all know that,” says Rob, referring to the wave of development coursing down Hastings. “But while it’s here, we’ve got to make the best of it. And speak loud, you know?”