How To Be a Good Neighbour: As Told by Mikkey Barbershop
It’s hard to love thy neighbour when thy neighbour fucking sucks. So, here’s how to be a good neighbour, according to the best neighbours in the world: ours.
Yonas Naiyzghi is the manager of Mikkey Barbershop at 639 Portage Ave, right next door to us.
Yonas was born in Eritrea and came to Canada in 2004. His younger brother, Michael, joined him a few years later. Yonas is a businessman and Michael’s got over 10 years of experience as a barber, so when the two joined forces, Mikkey’s was born.
The place is decked out in pop culture memorabilia. Gold-chain-printed capes at every chair. Music videos play on a flatscreen mounted on the back wall. Behind the counter: hair care products, snapbacks, and Yonas’ signature white cowboy hat—which can often be seen bobbing by The Good Will if you stare out the window long enough.
Perched near the ceiling, overlooking everything, is a plump and stoic pigeon. This brings us to lesson number one on how to be a good neighbour.
Yonas: “Unfortunately, [the bird] was losing his life in our parking lot four months ago. It was really cold outside and one of my barbers brought him in. We started giving him water and food, and everyday we see him and he’s getting better. Now he’s flying and walking…I always open the door, but he doesn’t want to go.”
Who could blame him? It’s hard to want to leave the place. Yonas and his crew are kind and curious, with bewildering stories in their back pockets at all times. In addition to the salon chairs, the shop offers plenty of extra seating, including an impossibly comfy looking couch. Even now, late afternoon on a sunny Monday, a few folks lounge about, the way you would in a good friend’s living room.
Yonas: “A barbershop is a place where you can hang out, you know, just vibe. [At other places], I see people, they go get a haircut and take off. When you come to my barbershop, it’s not like that. People come here, they chat. If you don’t know each other, I can introduce you!”
This is the kind of barbershop atmosphere Yonas grew up with, and he’s slowly but surely bringing that same feeling to Mikkey’s. He only wishes a broader audience would join him in his space.
Yonas and Michael opened the shop in 2019. Business was booming at first, but since the pandemic…not so much.
Yonas: “We struggle. The customers we were seeing before, we don’t see them anymore. We see a different crowd now. I need them to come back. Especially people who were born and raised in Canada, we don’t seem that many.”
Yonas wants to serve everyone: all genders, races, and ages—no matter their hair texture.
“They need to give us a chance. Patience. We’ll make them better looking. Some people don’t have the confidence to come inside [the shop], but we are community people, we love everyone.”
Yonas’ love for his community is clear in his words and his actions.
Yonas: “Me and my brother are working on this business, trying to make it better for the community, working on it every day.”
When they first moved into the space, it didn’t look too hot.
“It was very bad, very disgusting. Especially Portage Avenue, you see trash [everywhere]. But I said: I can make this place a better place. Me and my brother, we started cleaning up the street. I talked to the West End Biz and the City of Winnipeg, I ordered the planters out front and the garbage bin by the bus shed. I clean the bus shed and the back lane all the time.”
Aman Umer, a barber at the shop, chimes in with his most neighbourly act of service.
One morning, he stumbled upon a phone and a wallet in the parking lot out back. He picked it up and immediately looked for some clues on how to get in touch with the rightful owner.
He found plenty of ID, but he couldn’t complete his good deed just yet.
Aman: “I need to go pray, so I keep it with me and take it to church. The girl calls me and I say, okay, I’m at church but I’ll meet you at 11:30. And she didn’t believe me! She called me again, and I say, 11:30, I promise! And at 11:30, I meet her, and she couldn’t believe it. Crying like, thank you, thank you. Y’know, some people just assume the worst.”
Hearts of gold, these guys. That’s why we want to be the good neighbours they deserve.
Now, blasting music late into the night, chain smoking outside your window, vomiting outside your door—these are not the actions of a good neighbour. However, that sounds an awful lot like what comes out of our place.
The barbershop is open late, 10AM – 10PM Monday to Saturday, and 1PM – 8PM on Sundays. With these hours, Yonas and his team are around when the crowd shows up at The Good Will, for better or for worse. But the guys aren’t holding a grudge, they’re joining the party.
When asked if any Good Will patrons have ever wandered over to his door, Yonas lights up.
“They used to come and party here! Get their haircut, dance a little…they should come back.”
There’s a glimmer of remembrance in his eyes. A warm moment with dear friends or crossing paths with the neighbours—for Yonas, these are one and the same.
“We need to work all together to make a better society. We have to help each other to move on. We’re not the people who want to make money on the side, we are a community. We love everybody. That’s all I want.”
Connect with Mikkey Barbershop: