A new store downtown is paying tribute to Merritt’s past.
When the old Yuen On Lung store re-opens on Saturday as Mirror Vintage, it will be like stepping back in time for those who walk through its doors.
The nearly 100-year-old building’s story begins with the Toy family, which immigrated to Canada from China around 1916. The Toys founded the
Yuen On Lung Company shortly thereafter and built their Voght Street department store, which members of the Toy family operated on and off until as late as the early 2000s.
The store sat vacant for a few years in former owner Chung Toy’s estate, and was sold to local mechanic Clint Langill in September 2010.
About a year later, he hired Morgan Hampton to help clean it up.
Today, the two are more than partners in the store — they’re romantically involved as well.
But it’s a good thing they learned to work together well early on as the work keeps coming, Hampton said.
Dealing with the stockpile kept by former owner Chung Toy was one of many labours of love.
“He just kept ordering things and stockpiling things and saving things, and it was literally knee-deep on the floor and the shelves were still full of food and cans and cereal boxes and candy boxes; drinking glasses, mugs, souvenir items, clothing and shoes — we had so many pairs of
shoes, hundreds of pairs of shoes,” Hampton said.
The shoes are one of many truly vintage finds in the store. The pair found the shoes in a copy of the 1945 Eaton’s catalogue that had been lying around as well.
Countless original products with Chinese writing on the packaging line the shelves behind the counter.
“It’s a mixture of my collection and Clint’s collection and treasures we’ve found and things that were in the store,” she said.
Along with the merchandise they discovered, the couple also came upon boxes of photos that were developed and left behind at the Merritt Movie Mart, which was operated by Chung Toy’s brother Kenn until 1977.
Through Facebook, Langill and Hampton have reunited several people with long-lost family photos.
Those photos will be available at Saturday’s grand opening to those who may be able to identify people in them and alert their relatives, since
Langill and Hampton are originally from Powell River and Chilliwack, respectively.
Hampton, who moved to Brookmere after spending every childhood summer there with her grandparents, remembers the allure of the store when she and her grandmother would go looking at garage sales for treasures together.
“We used to always drive downtown here, and say wouldn’t it be so neat to go in that building? Wouldn’t it be so neat to explore that store?
And now I live here and I’m going to open it,” the 20-year-old said. “It’s sort of a twist of fate that was really nice to have.”
They had a soft launch for those who came to town for the MSS ’50s, ’60s and ’70s reunion that took place on the July 18-20 weekend and said the positive response was reassuring.
“We’ve really left it almost the way it was. We plan to leave it as a browse and buy. You can come and browse the historic collection that we have on display and you can also come and buy a little piece of history,” Hampton said.
Luckily, for those who remember it, the one dollar browsing fee will not be in effect.
However, they’ve still got Chung Toy’s sign announcing the fee under the glass at the counter.
“If you bought something, he would credit your dollar back. If you didn’t, you just had to give up your dollar to get in,” Hampton laughed.
And that sign is just one of endless treasures harkening back to a different era in Merritt that sit between the store’s walls.
“It actually feels more like we belong to the building than the building belongs to us,” Hampton said with a laugh. “We feel really honoured to be able to redo it and refinish it this way and sort of give it new life.”
The store will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for its grand opening on Aug. 2. Hampton said she will see what the demand is for the store’s regular schedule in the first few weeks.