Nam Lieng’s family hopes his legacy of honesty, friendly service and top-quality workmanship will be carried on in Abbotsford.
The owner of Vic’s Boot & Shoe Repair died in November and his family business is now up for sale in the city’s historic downtown. Lieng saved the city’s soles there for more than 20 years.
The shop closed in September when Lieng, 60, was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died just two months later, survived by his wife, daughter, son-in-law and a legion of loyal customers.
“People are still calling me today asking when it’s going to be re-opened, if we’re ever going to come back,” Lieng’s daughter, Anh Lieng, told The News in May. “The quality of his work was above all else and his customers can definitely attest to that.”
Lieng bought the shop with his wife, Luu Duong, more than 20 years ago after losing his cobbler job at Eaton’s Shopping Centre in downtown Vancouver. The Surrey residents began commuting daily and quickly established themselves in the community as hard-working and diligent business owners.
The shop was open six days a week, but Lieng’s services were in such high demand he was often working in the shop when it was closed on Sundays just to keep up.
Lieng and Duong first met in a refugee camp in Thailand after fleeing Vietnam’s communist regime.
“But we were not in love then,” Duong says, laughing in Abbotsford 40 years later.
They both came to Canada in 1980 independently and reconnected a while later. First, they were just friends but later became “more than friends,” she says.
Lieng worked any and every job – selling rugs, making pizza, delivering newspapers – he could find in those early years.
His story of hard work and struggle is typical of the thousands of Vietnamese refugees who settled in Canada around the same time, according to Giang Dinh, Anh’s husband, who is also the child of Vietnamese refugees.
“Unfortunately, that’s what our parents went through,” he said. “They don’t care what [kind of work] it is, as long as they could put food on the table and shelter over our heads.”
After learning the shoe repair trade at Vancouver Community College, Lieng went to work in a number of different shops before becoming his own boss in Abbotsford.
His family says he put great care into every shoe repair, whether it was a stiletto or a worn-out work boot.
“If he wasn’t able to repair something, he would be honest and very transparent – he would tell you this isn’t repairable, don’t bother to waste your money,” Anh says. “And if it was something that he could fix, he would definitely put his heart and soul into it.”
The family now hopes to sell the business, including Lieng’s machines and inventory, instead of simply selling the storefront property on South Fraser Way.
The challenge they face is finding a trained cobbler who can hit the ground running and begin saving soles again.