Prayer and Fasting – Day 30

For want of an hour a blog was lost.

I have five posts floating in my head waiting to be fastened to the blog.  For now they’ll have to keep floating as I have offered to help a desperate friend with a moving sale at her bead store for the next two weeks.  Yesterday was my training day.  I said a lot of, “Bear with me, I’m new,” after saying, “Did you know the store is moving locations?”  I’m hoping the 10-50 percent off sales will persuade people to put up with all the inconvenient news I’m delivering.

This working for a living is hard stuff.  I was on my feet for eight solid hours yesterday.  And guess who’s the idiot who wore heels?  Plus I used up my word quota within the first two hours.  Rookie move, I’d made plans with friends after work.  They graciously kept the conversation going while wondering if I was ticked at them for no apparent reason.  (Sorry Chels!  Sorry Kim!  I can move my lips again and not in the sneer I thought was a smile.)

Today, I get to be on my own for the afternoon.  It’s actually a lot of fun.  I love hearing about this customer’s wedding in October (bridesmaids will be wearing eggplant), and this teacher’s summer plans, and this gal’s creative projects on the go. I forgot how much I love interacting with customers!  But keep in mind, today’s Day Two!  I may change my tune by sundown.

As for my fast, it’s ongoing and habitual.  I’ve found it’s easy now to only eat two meals and to ignore the hunger cravings.  Prayer has become reactionary now in most situations, which I’m thrilled about.  My one struggle is that I seem to run out of time each day, unable to spend long amounts of time in conversation with God.  Whether I’ve been working at the store or for other reasons, my days have become full.  I see that I didn’t make it the priority it needed to be each day – first and foremost – and so over the past week it has been bumped off the calendar when other things have “come up.”  I must now get up a little earlier to rectify that. I notice the difference – a big one – when I miss that concentrated time with God.

And although some parts are getting “easier,” I miss the struggle of the fast that it was in the beginning.  I have all kinds of thoughts about that, about how there is great joy and privilege in wrestling and in struggling when you commit that to him. God blesses you with wisdom and peace in the midst of it.

Right now, though, I have to wrestle on a pair of flats and get my butt out the door.  Day Two, here I come!

Word on the Street – Part II

Hard to believe that less than a week ago we were experiencing a snow storm and today the whole world is baring their pasty legs and BBQing their dinner.

Since my foray into said snow storm to check out our downtown (why didn’t I wait just one week?), I’ve since heard from other concerned Barrie citizens about why it isn’t thriving, including but not limited to the following reasons:

  • dirty
  • poor parking
  • expensive parking
  • expensive merchandise
  • unsafe
  • high turnover of stores
  • hard to find what you want

My fav comment of Word on the Street – Part I was from Rebekah Ferguson who said our downtown has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality.

I would agree with every one of these comments. But there’s more to it than just the negative stuff.  There are some really great spots and it would be great to support those stores we do like downtown, that do not fit into the descriptors above.  Is it possible that patron-power can combat some of these problems?

Here are the places I visited last week.

MacLaren Art Centre

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time going into an art gallery without thinking how lovely the art would look on my walls.  Wouldn’t you know it, Maclaren is displaying all the art for their Benefactor Art Exchange.  This is an opportunity to borrow REAL art through a payment plan (which is tax deductible).  The program is so great for local artists to get their art out there and in homes (if you love the piece you’ve borrowed for a year, you have an option to purchase it).  I heard today that only 10% of the proceeds are kept by Maclaren.  The rest goes to the artists!

Most of the pieces are gorgeous.  Some are absolutely hideous.  They tell me it’s all art.

Simply Tea & Chocolate

I don’t love the name, but I do enjoy this little tea shop.  They teach you how to drink tea.  They have over 75 flavours of tea to choose from, but my favourite, and their most popular, is the Raspberry Champagne white tea.  It’s as rich as it sounds.  My love for this flavour made me buy a special tea pot to brew it in some time ago and I always go back for refills and some more tea training.

I often run into familiar faces at Simply Tea, which will always make me want to come back.

The downfall of this place is the unfortunate view out their window.  In the summer, you can see the whole bay… and the Hooter girls who serve customers on the balcony outside.

Page & Turners

I love Chapters, but I want to love somewhere else. I want to be a loyal shopper at an independent bookstore, somewhere to hang out and share the love of books with other book lovers.  And I wanted Page & Turners to be that place.  They have the structure for it: an old building, leather chairs, big bookcases.  What they do not have – or didn’t have today – is customer service, a friendly guy behind the counter. There is a guy, but he was on the computer and I suppose he was letting me browse as book lovers are wont to do.  The book shelves were empty, many books faced out I presume to take up space.  I purchased a book and got an arbitrary 10% off.  The guy didn’t explain why and I suddenly felt too lazy to ask.  This is not the place I will love.  Not today.

Update: Just got the word that Page & Turners will be closing its doors this month.  Not enough business.  Hard to know why, but I could take a guess.

My Paris Apartment

Heard some good things about this place, so I thought I’d check it out.  Another guy on a computer behind a desk.  I’m not a huge fan of antiques, but there were some nice pieces in there.  At least the prices made me think they were nice.  The way they were set up felt like they’d just been dropped off and were about to be picked up.  No information was offered about the antiques.  I could have become interested in a couple lamps in there, but they’d need work.  Most of their furniture needed work. They’re called “Project Pieces” for just such a reason – but I had to look that up on the internet for find that out.    I am not a Do-It-Yourselfer and I have a few unfinished projects of my own in the garage to prove it.  Shabby chic-ers should check this place out.

Our House

Our House is jam-packed with great gift ideas, including jewellery, candle-holders, kitchen gadgets, dinnerware, clothing accessories, and bath and beauty products. And what’s this? It’s also jam-packed with people!  It was all abuzz when I ducked into the store to get out of the snow storm.  I had to ask if it was always like this.  Yes, always.  Ever any slow times?  Never.  And they’ve been around for 18 years!  While I was there, I watched a woman spend $250 on a Pandora charm and figured they were “making the rent” pretty easily.

Red Tulip #2

Red Tulip recently relocated to the South End, but have kept a small boutique on Dunlop Street East.   In fact, this store is Red Tulip #2.  When the sales clerk suggested I check out their store in the South End, I wasn’t sure why. Because I was already right there. In her store. Downtown.

I kinda like that although she was microwaving her lunch when I came in, she refused to eat it in front of me.  She insisted on giving me her undivided attention and even filled me in on the neighbourhood goings-on.  Here’s the scoop:

  • Sobey’s is going into the Foodland Location at the corner of Collier and Mulcaster.
  • Zest left because of personal reasons not because business wasn’t good.
  • Paper Merchant left possibly because it’s a specialty store and people aren’t using paper anymore.
  • A downtown business can be quaint, but it’s a lot of hard work.

She also assumed that parking was the biggest barrier for customers.  I almost agreed with her till I eyed a shirt for $175.  Does our downtown have the clientele to buy clothing at these prices?  If you appreciate the customer service, it might be worth it to you to pay extra.  But if you hate the parking, you can always go to the South End!

With the sales clerk’s help, I did find a t-shirt in my price range, which she called as “cheap as chips.”


Lakeshore mews is a little road that runs behind Dunlop Street, which once again is unfortunately landmarked by being across the way from Hooters.

Awkward Stage describes itself as “an environmentally conscious clothing design house.  Nostalgic with a modern twist, the line captures the imagination of art nerds and pin up girls alike.”  Alana, owner and operator, is the “Queen of all, maker of things.”

I bought a dress from here last year in the summer.  So perfectly pretty, made out of retro bed sheets.  I was wearing it one day and my mom asked me where I bought it.  I said “Awkward Stage.” My mom thought I was referring to the fit of the dress and said, “Don’t worry, just lose 5 lbs. and it will fit better!”

The place felt empty last week during the snow storm, but I’ve seen it full of clothes and people.  A friend had an art show in their small gallery.  I felt cool just to be there.  I’ll feel cool in that dress once I get out of my awkward stage.

Le Petit Chapeau

Why don’t I wear more hats? I wondered when I walked into Le Petit Chapeau.  There’s romance to it.  And the woman does beautiful work. This milliner has a special kind of snobbery which is the impetus for her success.  Admitting to how-could-you-leave-your-house-like-that!? inspiration for her work, proven by a recent blog where she wrote four long paragraphs of the atrocities people wear when they go out in public (i.e, jogging pants to a bridal show).

While there, I tried to figure out how to get invited to an occasion that would allow me to wear one of her cocktail hats.

The magic is where the hats reside.  I didn’t feel as compelled to own one once I left.  But I did feel that I should dress up a little more.

Since that day, I’ve been back downtown twice, where I went to The Magpie Bead Co., back to Simply Tea & Chocolate and checked out Anchique, the already done shabby chic decor store, which took over the lease where Zest was.  Highly recommend all three.

On my downtown TO DO list for another day:  Absolutely Fabulous – Upscale Consignment store and Old Forester Book Store – maybe THIS will be the book store I’ll love?

What do you love about Barrie’s Downtown?

This article, Buying Local:  How It Boosts the Economy, has great suggestions that anyone can put into practice.  We are buying more than a product when we buy local.

Word on the Street – Part I

I decided to give our downtown a little love yesterday.  I’ve been neglecting it for some time. I know it’s harder to appreciate store-to-store shopping in this weather, but there are advantages to being inconvenienced. There are the wider-reaching benefits of supporting local business… but even that seems to be shifting as retailers relocate to the large plazas in the south end where the world shops. On a personal level, however, those big plazas don’t give you the unique shopping experience of these old century buildings with their creeky floors, and exposed brick, with unique shopkeepers and their stories.  Our downtown core is also our cultural and community centre. It’s where you hear about what’s going on around town, including business seminars, live music events, festivals and art crawls.

But yesterday, after taking a three-hour tour (and returning), I left with this question: why isn’t our downtown thriving?

Photo from mikey_e at, who describes downtown shopping as “interesting to walk along for a bit, but unless you’re into paraphenelia it’s unlikely to retain your interest…”

It might be that it’s March. It’s the worst time of year for most retailers, whether downtown or not.  Until that sun starts shining again, people aren’t out in full force.  There could be several reasons for that: vacationing, catching up from Christmas, too cozy inside to go outside…  I have to keep in mind that I went out on a weekday in the middle of a snowstorm.

Does that explain the rotating FOR LEASE signs in the windows and the empty shelves inside the stores, though?  Is downtown itself to blame for the lack of interest?

Here are some things that people have to contend with, when shopping downtown, which might be a hindrance:

  • Parking is a hassle.  You probably can’t find a convenient place to park and/or you have to pay for one. And you have to PARALLEL PARK, which brings back fear-filled memories of your Driver’s Licence Test. I’ve been known to decide not to shop downtown because of lack of parking space.  Again, come the warmer months, this becomes less of an issue as it is enjoyable to walk to where you shop.  The walk becomes part of the experience, especially with all the work Parks & Rec put into beautifying downtown in the spring.  In winter, though, the parking sucks.
  • Inconsistent hours from store-to-store.  Downtown shopping usually means Saturday shopping for the average person who works 9-5, unless you plan to go straight from work to fit in shopping within half an hour to an hour.  There are some people who stay open later, but you cannot expect to experience everything downtown offers when there are no guarantees if and when a store is open.  You’ll see lots of handwritten Be Back in 10 Minutes signs.  Even went to a store today that posted a handwritten sign in the window, closed for two days.
  • More expensive. In order to support an independent retailer, you’re probably going to have to spend more money than at a big box store.  That’s just the logic of economics.  Buy at wholesale quantities, get wholesale prices.  As a consumer, it’s harder to pay more for what you know you can get for less. As a business owner, you must make it worthwhile for the customers to pay extra, either with unique products, better customer service, or more of an experience.  We will gladly pay this “Downtown Tax” if you provide at least one of these things for us.
  • Hooligans. What a great word that is. What about riff-raff?  There aren’t enough opportunities to use those words, except when you’re referring to downtown. Of course, I have no problem with anyone at all enjoying our downtown.  It’s free and lovely space to be enjoyed.  But there is something to the notion that if downtown shops share space with bars and restaurants, there is the consideration that things can get out of hand after closing time.  I spoke with a shop owner last year who told me she can no longer get insurance for her display window, which has been broken so many times, her insurance company ditched her.  A  couple years ago, I was considering renting retail space downtown, but I was told by customers that they would have a hard time supporting the idea, especially in the evenings. I wasn’t afraid of potential hoodlums, but my customers were.  Which might also attribute to the early closing times of the downtown business.  If no one is coming, why remain open past 5?  Actually, I’ve had an ugly experience of a man making violent and rude gestures at me and a friend when we were in a store downtown after dark. Thank goodness we were able to lock the door just before the man tried to get in.  He was obviously drunk.  He eventually got bored with us and left.  But I didn’t feel great about having to walk to my car after that.
  • Confused identity.  I wonder what our downtown is trying to be.  Is it a restaurant and bar district? Is it a shopping district? An arts & culture district?  Something altogether different?  One thing I do know is that I walked past a lot of payday loan places and convenience stores in order to find something of interest.  This identity is determined by two sets of people: customers and owners of the buildings.  The owners obviously want someone who can pay rent faithfully, but they have become indiscriminate about who that should be.  The customers determine the identity by which stores they support.  Strip clubs, loan sharks and bong stores don’t seem to have a problem garnering business downtown.

What about you?  Do you feel our downtown is thriving?  If not, why?