By Gerald V, Paul
Vincent Lai, owner of Nicey’s Food Marts and an integral part of the Jamaican-Canadian community with numerous awards including from the Black Business and Professional Association, has died. He was 64.
Community leader Joan Pierre said, “I cannot stress enough what a good, caring and thoughtful person he was. He will be missed in our community. Our deepest condolences to Vincent’s family.
“Vince you will be remembered by all, you have left your mark in this country (and) our favourite place to shop Nicey’s for all thing Caribbean,” Pierre posted on Facebook.
Gail Lea Scala, former editor of the Jamaican Gleaner, said, “So saddened to hear of the passing of Vincent Lai. Condolences to Lorain and their children, he will be greatly missed.”
Lai, who died Friday, once revealed to The Camera that he was born in Kwang Tung in China and arrived in Jamaica with his mother in 1953.The Hakka-speaking Lai’s first name Muileung was a challenge for students and teachers, so at age six, so he was called Vincent.
The eldest of three children, Lai picked up his initial business skills at his parents’ haberdashery business on West Street in Kingston, just south of Spanish Town Road.
After a fire put the family out of business, Lai opened his own store.
He negotiated a distributorship arrangement with a local manufacturer called General Blending. “I became a major supplier of bulk syrup for Skyjuice vendors. The churches would buy a lot of wine (for communion) from us. All of it was made in Jamaica.”
On his move to Canada after a two-year stint as a rental agent for Budget Rent-A-Car, he seized the opportunity, with his wife Lorain and bought a Nicey’s Food Mart in 1979 which had been in operation for six years, with 1,000 square feet of space. Eventually it became a 15, 000 sq. ft plaza serving as the anchor store with an addition of Nicey’s take-out restaurant.
And the rest is Nicey’s history. A five- branch network ensued using the franchise model within the Greater Toronto area. Two have since closed.
“We saw an opportunity to buy a West Indies store. It had the nickname of the young lady who owned it and it was well-known so we just continued with the name,” Lai said.
The store carried Agro products via a wholesaler who imports them directly from Jamaica, thus contributing towards the employment of Jamaicans in the farming belt.
Lai leaves his wife Lorain and three children, Dr. Richard Lai, Melissa and Camille.
Visitation is at Highland Funeral Home, 3280 Sheppard Ave. E. today (Feb. 26) from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Funeral Service at St. Patrick’s Parish, 5633 Hwy. 7, Markham, on Friday (Feb. 27) from 10 to 11 a.m.