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:
- poor parking
- expensive parking
- expensive merchandise
- 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 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.”
ON LAKESHORE MEWS
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.