Airport Inn Lakeside owner Raif Fleihan is fighting to keep his business open. (David Venn - Calendar)

Airport Inn Lakeside owner cares for his residents but not the Lake Country Calendar

Resident of the motel said she would be on the streets if it weren’t for Fleihan

Raif Fleihan sits outside of the Airport Inn Lakeside with black Crocs, a lanyard that says, “no one home!” and a Panasonic landline with the word “jackass” in digital lettering.

He drinks a green drink — not black enough to be coffee and not light enough to be a cocktail — and opens up a red pack; there’s only a couple of smokes left.

Fleihan looks territorial by nature. After years of owning and selling businesses, trying to make it in a foreign country that he migrated to as a young man and defending himself and his motel, his face exudes hostility when a stranger roams onto the property.

Generally speaking, the label of the Airport Inn has been disgusting, dirty, uninhabitable; that it’s a stain amongst the pristine backdrop of Lake Country as drivers charge into Winfield off Highway 97.

Coffee will be offered to people that Fleihan likes. If he likes you, he will talk to you.

He might offer you a smoke but it depends on how many he has left in his pack. He’s been told before that he is rude.

“I have one friend of mine, seven-foot-tall, bald-headed,” he said. “I met him by accident in ‘71. I cook for him.”

Sometimes he gets a little bit off-topic.

READ MORE: Judge rules controversial Lake Country inn will not get business license

Fleihan is from a town about 20 minutes away from Beirut in Lebanon. He moved to Canada with his brother when he was in his 20s.

He developed a hard-working mentality and over the years, he owned and sold a number of businesses before attaining what is now known as the Airport Inn.

In 2017, the motel was shut down for health and safety purposes and Fleihan was denied a business license for the property.

Mayor James Baker said Lake Country’s fines aren’t enough to keep businesses like the Airport Inn accountable so now the district has a motion brewing that could board up the building.

It has yet to reach council’s desk, according to Karen Miller, the communications officer for the District of Lake Country.

“We have to be concerned about public safety,” Mayor Baker said.

The motel is currently undergoing renovations for infrastructure the district has deemed unsanitary or faulty.

Fleihan said his business only does monthly rentals now. This way, he thinks, no one can blame him for staying in a gungy motel suite they booked online.

According to Baker, there were talks about the province acquiring the land, but BC Housing claimed they don’t recall any such plans.

Although, that is how the property is being treated now. With the monthly rental structure, Fleihan runs a supportive housing service for people with low income.

Often, he said, he doesn’t even charge people rent and he just gets them to help out with the property.

“The people who work and serve every day, they can’t afford to have a $20-million home.”

He leans when he comes to a conclusory statement, such as this one. “The poor people can’t figure out how to fit in.”

READ MORE: Council pulls Airport Inn’s license

READ MORE: Business as usual at controversial Lake Country inn, despite failure to attain a license

Fleihan — whether he identifies as someone who can fit in or not — sticks up for the marginalized, according to one resident who has laundry to do.

Two “darlings” are spoken. One from Fleihan to the tenant, who was dressed in pyjamas and a ponytail on her day off, and one from the tenant for Fleihan.

She walks from her unit up to the main reception at the head of the property.

Her name is Stacie Brinkman and she asks her landlord for a smoke, but he only has one left.

She said that’s OK, she might have one in her room. He gives her his last one anyways.

“You’re so good to me,” she responds.

She said Fleihan is misunderstood by the public and so is the business.

“Everyone in here is one big happy family,” she said. “It’s not a perfect place, but it’s not disgusting. It’s not a run-down place — it’s my f–king home.”

Brinkman said she would probably be living on the streets if it weren’t for Fleihan. It’s something she is very grateful for.

“He cares for people.”

READ MORE: Notice on title remains in place for Airport Inn

BC Housing does not refer people to the inn but has said that often times, other affordable, supportive or emergency shelters might if they are fully occupied.

“For years, investments in affordable and supportive housing did not keep up with community needs and many people have been left with nowhere to go,” said Tracy Wells, senior communications advisor for BC Housing.

“In limited circumstances, housing providers may refer clients to an appropriate hotel on a temporary basis.”

The motel, whose infamy rose from its reputation as a bargain inn, is often the recipient of people who may not have many other options to go.

Fleihan said he doesn’t really know how many people stay at the motel; it changes every day.

“You don’t need a license; they can keep that garbage.”

His approach to business is more ad hoc and people-centric rather than being about formalities and regulations.

The inside reception area is filled with antiques, drapes, a piano and a functioning TV that has a sizable black mark on the screen — it looks as if something or someone punched it.

Fleihan doesn’t care because he watches the news on that TV.

He said he doesn’t like the Lake Country Calendar very much, either.

READ MORE: Business continues to operate without license

There are pictures with him and a political hero of his, former B.C. premier Bill Bennett, who he said he had a very strong relationship with and was the only politician he’s ever really liked.

They line the wooden desk that is also strewn with old receipts, mail and letters.

He damns computers and doesn’t bother to use them anymore.

Red packages are shielded behind the cupboard of a metal encasement. It is his stash of cigarettes.

At the same moment, another man who helps Fleihan with the property brings cheese and crackers.

If this happens, Fleihan would like if you eat the crackers.

Good hospitality is important to him.

Just Posted

Kelowna youth can make a difference with a neighbourhood grant

The city will award deserving youth the opportunity to make an impact on their community

Kelowna candidates’ signs headed to dump

Dozens of signs were picked up for not complying with bylaws, according to the city

Kelowna woman crowned champion at Ironman World Championship

65-year-old Laurelee Nelson captured the triathlon title in Hawai on Oct. 12

Police search Joe Rich home, arrest 6 and seize 2000 marijuana plants

Police seized $1400 in cash, 95 pounds of dried marijuana bud and nearly 2000 plants

Kelowna RCMP warn public of Service Canada Scam

RCMP says not to send anyone claiming to be from Service Canada money or Bitcoin

YouTube video of Revelstoke grizzly bear goes viral

Why did the grizzly bear cross the railway tracks?

ELECTION 2019: Have Justin Trudeau’s Liberals really cut middle-class taxes?

Conservative Andrew Scheer vows to cut bottom bracket, NDP’s Jagmeet Singh targets wealth tax

B.C. RCMP officer suing the force for malicious prosecution

Cpl. Tammy Hollingsworth cleared of wrongdoing after misconduct hearing

Talk to your kids about vaping, B.C.’s top doctor says

B.C. health officials have discovered the first vaping-related illness in the province

Princeton suffers highest per capita rate of drug deaths: Coroner report

Princeton has suffered the highest number of illicit drug related deaths in… Continue reading

Alberta truck convoy plans counter-protest at climate rally with Greta Thunberg

United We Roll organizer says similar protest planned for Swedish teen’s event in Edmonton

Scheer, Trudeau, Singh haggle over potential minority government outcome

If you believe the polls, it appears the Liberals and Conservatives are neck-and-neck

Okanagan College nursing students to make history in Thailand

Students to take on Vernon-born practicum overseas

British family deported after ‘accidental’ U.S. border crossing

U.S. officials deny it was mistake, release video of vehicle crossing into Washington from Langley

Most Read