A CROSS WITH THE LETTERS ‘EAST’ ON THE VERTICAL AND ‘VAN’ ON THE HORIZONTAL; this is the iconic symbol representing East Vancouver. East Van Inc, a brick-faced, box-shaped building, set slightly back from the street along Vancouver’s Commercial Drive is where you will find the man who has built a brand around the cross and a community that supports everyone who is a part of it. We had the pleasure of spending a day with Rocco Dipopolo, owner of East Van Incorporated, and got to hang out with his staff and the artists who work out of his shop.
When we entered into the East Van shop we were instantly drawn to the walls and clothing racks which are stocked high and low with merchandise bearing the iconic East Van Cross. From the back of the shop you can hear a distinct voice interacting with the artists and their clients. You’ll likely hear this voice accompanied with lots of respectful acknowledgement and laughter as his shop is filled with excitement! Rocco has a larger than life personality; he’s a man of the people who takes a great deal of care and pride in the operation of his businesses as well as his personal and family life too.
When Rocco is at East Van Inc, he is living the role of the Tattoo Tailor. From concept to completion, Rocco takes pride in helping his clients choose the perfect tattoo. He advises them on placement and pairs them with specific artists that he knows will bring their ink ideas to life. He offers a creative eye to help the artists visualize the piece. When we asked Rocco why he does this he explained that it is sometimes challenging, especially on larger pieces, for an artist who has been starring at their canvas for hours on end to envision the final outcome; lines can become blurry, and colors can start to blend together, says Rocco. At times the client might be too invested in the meaning of the tattoo and the artist may be too invested in the design elements, “this is when a third set of eyes and perspectives can be welcomed to help turn a good idea into a great tattoo,” he explains.
In addition to the tattoo shop, Rocco owns a local gym, medical cannabis dispensary, the East Van merchandise line, and along with rapper, Madchild of the Swollen Members, he heads up the global Battle Axe Warrior movement. Fundamental principles of the Baxwar crew are to be both a professional network where business and creative opportunities stay within the circle first, and a social network such that regardless of where you are you can connect with like-minded brothers and sisters. The crews activity is monitored keenly by Rocco, who frowns upon any negativity or ignorance that may be displayed by a member. “It is a movement of positivity and brotherhood; there is no room for keyboard tough guys or ignorant people looking for trouble,” says Rocco.
We were so honored to spend the day with everyone in the shop and hear stories from some of the artists. We talked with Rocco about how the shop began and he explained some of the history behind the iconic East Van cross symbol. He explained that the cross actually dates back as far as the 1940’s as a symbol of the eastern side of the city and the culture that existed here. In 2010, Vancouver artist Ken Lum created the monument for East Vancouver, which is a 20 meter tall illuminated sign bearing the words ‘EAST VAN’ inside a cross. With a mixed history, the cross became a representation of what many viewed as a less desirable neighbourhood. Rocco felt compelled to turn the negative stigma around so he trademarked the design in an effort repurpose the logo as a symbol of positivity and support. With his continued presence and positive impact it’s safe to assume that he will achieve that goal. We look forward to catching up with Rocco again in the near future!