FEATURE IMAGE: Christopher Hemsworth, Halifax SUP Background Art
The Downtown Halifax Business Commission (DHBC) has a mandate to improve conditions, advocate business and consumer needs, and keep the core of Halifax on the map. I recently moved to Dartmouth, but still do the majority of my work and occasional play here. Gosh, you should see the view!
DHBC’s Big Day Downtown is an ongoing series of programs and contests and my favourite part is when they invest in writers to spend money downtown and share their experiences. There is always a catch, and these year it focused on crowdsourcing ways to spend the money. I may not have asked outright, but I do that on a regular basis. So much so, I can’t recall the last time I have actually had an original thought online. I’m reading about and noting new businesses in Halifax from tidbits of evidence I find in the Herald, All Nova Scotia, CBC, Metro, and The Coast. I look around and notice new closed and open signs in windows. I listen to what people say about their experiences and always like to hear a good tip. Like, “Oh wow, the guy that owns the bar and does the booking says it will be great!” or “Hey, a jerk is complaining about getting bad service from a place that opened too soon.” I also (mostly just) retweet as The Dingler, so I enjoy thinking about the Haligonian relevance of things online without all my non-local personal interests mucking up the stream.
When I think of “People’s Choice”, I have mixed feelings and then focus in on my own taste, experience, and how it may mesh with my community. I immediately recalled what the best selling grocery non-perishable by units or the best selling grocery non-perishable by total sales dollars in Nova Scotia were (questions and answers courtesy of Halifax Retales). I come in and out of phase with fools but my opinion on the popularity or rarity of something rarely makes me feel like a genius. Keeping things subjective while trying to support a good effort by others, a sensible budget, and my own personal integrity is an ongoing battle.
I glanced at The Coast Reader’s Best of Halifax, but still had no inspiration. I thought about spending the money meeting with various people over a bunch of coffee breaks to make the plan, but wasn’t sure if needed any more democratic process in my life. Anyone can follow me on Twitter or Instagram. A step closer is the illusion of reciprocity I get from my Facebook friends and LinkedIn colleagues. Pinterest still skew towards cut-and-paste magazine imagery. I feel too old on Tumblr. Swarm/Foursquare tracks my whereabouts. Google+? Ha ha ha. Don’t even get me started. Old fashioned Blogging? Well, here we are.
Since squeaky wheels get the grease, I spoke with my daughter Rowan, one of the squeakiest wheels I know. We decided to take the day between summer camp and grade three starting to hit the streets. Armed with a vague sense of self-gratification, time (and $150) to burn, plus our appetite for slightly new experiences and old comforts gave us our story.
Starting with parking, which is never really as much of an issue when you realize you have to pay and walk. Metered versus garage? Street versus indoor? Uphill versus downhill? Whatever your criteria, there is a spot for you. Choice: Provincial Law Courts.
This small shop in the Historic Properties stands out (especially to my daughters), amongst the shiny and wooden items of its neighbours. It’s filled with locally made and imported items but the influence is heavily Japanese, fantastical, cute, and pastel colours. We ended up with a couple blue and pink hand fans, but there are lots of options for gifts, stationary, and other gateway tchotchkes into another dimension.
TWO IF BY SEA
A massive oatmeal raisin cookie, a large chocolate mocha, and a bag of freshly roasted, whole Anchored coffee beans. This was definitely the “comfort” section of our day. File TIBS under great coffee and baked goods. It made the rest of day possible.
I was curious to try the baked potatoes from this newly relocated cupcake store, but no luck. Onward and upward! Let me know if you get a chance!
Rowan wasn’t hungry at this point and I had missed lunch, so I went with the sushi combo. This location is in Purdy’s Landing and offers reasonably priced, fast, and quality sushi lunches. And stamps for frequent shoppers. This is the kind of fast food that doesn’t punish you afterward.
How could we not go here, right? This is Halifax’s premier candy store (now, a chain that reaches out into Calgary, Montreal, Saint John and St. John’s). We were tempted by the massive gummy bear and gummy worm, but stuck with a folded pagoda food pail filled with Rowan’s favourite treats. I found something with dark chocolate and coconut. Oh, and two Pez dispensers. C3P0 for Rowan and one of the member’s of the Hello Kitty extended family for her sister Kenna.
Suffering from recent bad news of a sudden street closure, my sympathies (and a chunk of change) went out to the Inkwell Boutique. They were having a free-with-purchase Emma Fitzgerald bag promo and I filled it with some paper dolls by Briana Corr Scott (a selkie and a fairy) and a salt cod print from Lunenburg’s Kat Frick Miller.
Art! DeSerres has a lot of options and tools and toys. For the budding artist to the professional. It is a fun place to browse, but an even better place to stock up. And sometimes there are sales. Check out these Faber Castell Watercolour pencils, for instance. Rowan has lots of ideas on how to spend the money, but we stuck with those and some watercolour paper.
THE DISCOVERY CENTRE
We had some time to kill, and the Discovery Centre is a regular stop if you have kids (especially when it rains).
Thanks again to the DHBC for making this happen and caring so much about our city and the people that live and work within it. It takes a village to build this city on rock and roll.
My previous Big Days Downtown:
I can never tell if this is kind of thing happens because of listening to or ignoring an SEO expert.
I live in the North End and work near the Halifax waterfront, and explore downtown as a regular part of my life. I wasn’t born here but it is definitely my home. I spent the last couple years using Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s Big Day Downtown as opportunity to let my daughters have a bit of input in all the fun and spending. This year, I added a healthy dose of “self” awareness. Not to say my girls are spoiled (they are) or that we don’t have fun downtown (we do), but this was a chance for me to move outside of my comfort-zone by treating myself like I actually have a comfort-zone and decided to try out a couple new and fun things for me.
To kick things off, I was invited to the launch at Noble, an amazing sub-terreanian (beneath The Middle Spoon) speak-easy specializing in Great Depression era cocktails that are accessible by secret password only. I was asked to randomly select three cards from a large bowl and was left holding Dramatic, Exotic, and Happy as ways to experience <a href="downtown Halifax.
The first challenge? Parking. Definitely a contentious issue but never an area of stress for me personally. My usual plan is to find my destination and then drive in concentric circles until I can squeeze into a spot. Usually, this is after 6pm or on the weekends, so I don’t worry about scrounging for change for the old-school meters. If you are looking to take in as much of the downtown as possible, you don’t need to park outside of every place you visit. The answer came at $8 a day and a couple blocks from Scotia Square; Centennial Pool. Not technically downtown, but definitely close enough for you to get there on foot. Also, don’t forget there are “lots” of other parking options plus other smart options outside of driving a car downtown
The next challenge? Activating my $150 RBC Pre-paid Visa.
Besides Neptune, Halifax Feast, and Grafton Street Dinner Theatre, I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach this category. I was lucky to be smack in the middle of the 23rd Atlantic Fringe Festival which provides heaps of drama, comedy, musicals, and magic from a wide array of talented people. I choose Tara Thorne’s re-staging of her 2007 Law & Order: Musical Victims Unit play. It is a tribute to the Dick Wolf institution, playfully recasting the cliches and stereotypes as only a true fan can do. Plus, with an added layer of “cop rock”. How can you go wrong? Hint: you can’t, it was a great time and you only have to heed this warning:
Please don't bring your children to our show and ask what the chung-chung is every time. I mean thanks for coming but
— Tara Thorne (@thorneyhfx) September 3, 2013
Depending on where your mind may wonder when faced with the thought of something exotic (really depends on whether you are a Venus Envy or a Night Magic type of gal or guy), we are lucky enough to have many diverse options downtown. I didn’t go down that road per se, but I opted with the more traditional definition and focused on goods imported from far “away”.
Just down from the Cogswell Interchange, RCHMND (1876 Hollis St) is a men’s clothing store that is all class and home to the latest styles from Gitman Vintage, Norse Projects, United Stock Dry Goods, and many more. I picked up an item that is part of my arsenal of office supplies, a pack of Fields Notes Brand notepads. They had the limited edition “County Fair” additions and, maybe I am stretching “exotic” a little, but I went with Oregon. It is home to Portland, after all.
I swung by Two If By Sea (1869 Upper Water St), aka TIBS, and grabbed a freshly roasted bag of their El Salvador, Monte Ray Anchored Coffee beans (a hint of blackberry, dark chocolate, and dried fruit) to bring home for burr grinding and drinking black or bullet proofed. Importing from Dartmouth is pretty exotic, right?
Chocolate By Design (1360 Lower Water St) provided me with the energy needed from a double mocha to keep going and I went with a $10 sampling of some of their best dark gourmet Belgium chocolate.
Other potential exotic options that cross my mind:
- Japanese Food Paradise (1020 Barrington St)
- Kee Heong Cantonese Bakery (1532 Granville St)
- Sawadee Tea House (1871 Granville St)
A quick, easy, and happy lunch in the food court was next: Kebab Kitchen’s (5201 Duke St) Special mezze plate which is an affordable and delicious mix of dips (hummus), cheese (halumi), falafel, grape leaves, and pita plus a 480 mL Green Hornet from Booster Juice, which is a blend of carrots, celery, spinach, and parsley. It only (!) has 16g of sugar, but I dare you to look up what your seleced smoothie has, because it looks like that lowest you can go there.
I’m a pretty happy guy by nature, but I’m also a non-drinker. How can that be? That’s a long story, but I thought about the idea of dipping my toe in the sea of alcohol and throught this would be an interesting way to start. I walked to Bishop’s Cellar (1477 Lower Water St) and got a staff member to unofficially walk me through a basic version of Red and White Wine 101. I learned about dry, sweetness, regions, grapes, and the term fruit-forward. I had tons of options and ended up playing it safe and relatively inexpensive with Adolia Valpolicella and Caposaldo Pinot Grigio, both from Italy.
I also would check out the following for:
- clothing and cool nicknacks, there’s Biscuit General Store (1661 Argyle St)
- music there is Taz Records (1521 Grafton St)
- hobbies and creativity check out Maritime Hobbies and Crafts (1521 Grafton St) or Halifax’s Makers Space (101-1657 Barrington St)
- Saint Lou’s Gentlemen’s Barbershop
- Men’s services from Spirit Spa or Interlude Spa
The 2012 edition of Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s (DHBC) Big Day Downtown introduced a playful twist in order to facilitate (or force, for the agoraphobic at heart) bloggers to step-up the “social” in social media. Names were drawn at a reception at the wonderful Morris East and I was partnered with The Internet’s own Joel and Sylvia from the collaborative pop-culture-athon known as This Needs to Stop (Looking for a place to start? Try the Comprehensive Review of Fifty Shades of Grey). The idea of mashing-up writers was a lot easier to get behind than the thought of me spawning a third child to properly continue my series.
Was I about to awkwardly dive into a brave new world of fashion, food and drink? Or would I bore them tears with the latest advances in consumer electronics, web standards and must-have apps? Luckily we found a secure middle ground. I would bring Rowan, a 6-year-old proxy of the wants and desires of the youth of today and we would invest the $200 in an array of gifts for children in need this upcoming holiday season. We were guided by a few simple rules; toys had to be battery-free and, most importantly, be super fantastic.
I tried to get a midi version of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All” to autoplay in order to elicit the proper amount of emotion, but you will just have to hum along in your head.
We met at The Uncommon Group’s Carbonstok (1235 Barrington St, +1(902)404-7288) in the self-proclaimed SoMo sector of downtown. The place is full of unique, unusual and clever gift ideas. Where else could I find a massive cardboard buffalo head for my dad last Christmas? Several moments passed being confounded by various wooden brain teasers from the Toymaker of Lunenburg. Not only was this a great start to a big day downtown, but October 20th marked Canada’s first Small Business Saturday. This meant no tax at Carbonstok, extending our financial reach a step further.
- A super-bouncy Queen Beatrix by Kikkerland ($6.08/5+)
- Canadian-made “smell me”-worthy recycled plastic and real wood Sprig Rally Racer with Adventure Guide Rudi Tootin ($27.76/3+)
We strolled down to The Discovery Centre’s Discovery Shop (1593 Barrington St, +1(902)492-4422) and were treated to more accidental savings. Due to an update of exhibits at the Discovery Centre, all the Dinosaur toys were marked 50% off. There were a lot of choices to be made, leaning heavily towards experimental, observational and “some assembly required”. Rowan was blown-away by the effect of 3D glasses…even without having any corresponding 3D-ready images to look at.
- LEGO Friends Olivia’s Inventor’s Workshop, which Rowan remarked: “I think she builds robots and discovers diamonds.” ($12.99)
- Sylvia Branzei’s (Illustrated by Jack Keely) Animal Grossology, based on Rowan’s love of the original exhibit and having one of the books in the series herself ($14.99)
- Wild Republic’s Chomper for, well, chomping ($4.29)
- Geocentral Dinosaur Book & Dig Kit with digger and glue but no paint ($15.99)
- Toyop’s Triassic Triops space age tank with “guaranteed to hatch” prehistoric eggs ($15/8+)
- Schylling’s Balloon Powered Wooden Boat for tubby time fun ($5.60)
- “Guaranteed to grow” Big Time Toy’s The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys Ocean-Zoo based on Rowan’s own experience of raising a couple of these weird prawn-like beasts (6+)
- A Lizard Egg Growing Pet that, according to Joel, will eventually omit a foul oder…that’s automatic kid approval right there ($2.19)
The last stop was DeSerres (1546 Barrington St, +1(902)425-5566), where Rowan spent some time testing out various markers and art supplies. The toys and children’s craft section is very impressive, covering a wide-range of tastes and skill levels.
- From successful local toy maker Orb Factory Stick ’n Style Sparkle Bands that was able to elicit this response from Rowan: “[Squee]…that looks amazing!” ($16.95)
- Orb Factory Robots Sticky Mosaics with FlipMotion™ stickers which Rowan thought was “cool” ($14.97)
- The universally useful and fun Play-Doh Animal Activities Mini Bucket ($7.47/3+)
- A 71 piece Portable Easel “for double-sided fun” featuring a white board, magents, and chalk. There were two options, one with rounded edges and another more box-like. ($24.97)
We approached our goal of $200 within a couple hours and with $1.75 to spare. 14 items were purchased in total, though many more were fondled, test-driven and left-behind for another day.
The last step takes place on Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 17th Annual Chronicle Herald Holiday Parade of Lights. The MacLeod-Lewis clan will be bundling up, as usual, as heading down to the event and eagerly handing over to the Empire Theatres Toy Drive. A new family tradition has been born!
See also: This Needs to Stop: Big Day Downtown!
This is Rich Aucoin’s latest video and it is pretty amazing…and I’m not just saying that because my eldest daughter, Rowan, appears just past the 3:50 mark during the “It’s a Wonderful Life” sequence as Zuzu Bailey.
It seems like yesterday I was running through Downtown Halifax with my daughter Rowan in hand (read about or watch our initial #bigdaydowntown adventure), flashing the $100 Visa to anyone who would swipe it. We had a great time blowing our budget in a 4-year-old approved fashion and were honoured to be asked back to participate.
This year the rules had changed. Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s Big Day Downtown 2 focused on getting people to try out new things. Since Rowan just started school and I just started a parental leave with Kenna, the newest addition to our family, I knew what had to be done.
The main goal was to spoil Kenna, but I’m not completely selfless. After an early morning wake-up and a lesisurely walk downtown from the Hydrostone, I needed a caffeinated boost to get me through the rest of the day. I decided to start our adventure at The Wired Monk (5147 Morris St) after reading many great comments about the place on twitter (I’m looking at you @bitdepth and @yelphalifax). I never realized it was a franchise coffee shop but it definitely doesn’t have a “chainy” feel. I quickly glanced at the menu and ordered a massive Iced Mocha along with a Blueberry Oatmeal muffin (pictured above). With tip and taxes, that came to $8.65 (pretty standard mark-up around these parts for a large specality drink and baked good). I should note that if you can’t find a seat, make sure you walk around to the back stairs and check out the lower level.
After powering-up, our first child-friendly purchase was a couple of finger puppets from Feroz Design Handcrafted Jewellery and Accessories (5112 Prince St). I went with the witch and ladybug, although I had nothing against the other critters available in the basket. Total cost: $9.18.
We have been members of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia for several years now (It’s worth joining just to access the Family Sundays and check out the annual Sobey Art Award nominees) but I never exit through the gift shop. The gift shop had several interesting things that jumped out at us, including a stuffed Pablo Picasso doll that was on clearance and tons of Maud Lewis paraphalia, but I went with the local board book A Halifax A•B•C (pictured above). It came to $14.40 with our 10% member discount.
I had another membership card that entitled me to a never-before-used discount, so we went up the road to The Discovery Centre and checked out the puzzles and science-related products in the shop. I picked up the Heart Warming™ Mini Microbe Box, a bizarre collection made up of a tiny stuffed Sperm Cell, Egg Cell, Kissing Disease, Penicillin, and an Amoeba (apparantly, a limited edition item). I didn’t see the Heart Burned™ Mini Microbe Box (featuring Herpes, Pox, HPV, Chlamydia and Penicillin) there, so I would assume that would be a special order. I also tossed in a ubiquitous Earth/Globe Stress Ball (sans logo) that I remember having when I was a kid. It came to $27.48 after our 15% member discount.
Biscuit General Store (1661 Argyle St) is a cutting edge and respected clothing store on Argyle Street. Extensive female fashions, stylish men’s clothing, Urban Outfitter-esque like oddities and a relatively new and carefully curated children’s section. I passed right by the full-sized rubber chicken and went with a pint-sized, Original Rubber Duck from Rich Frog (pictured above). It came to $11.50 and squeaks.
DeSerres (1546 Barrington St), formerly Loomis & Toles, is known as an art and craft supply store (and whatever need a Star Wars™ Moleskine® might fill), but there is also a creative toy section. I decided on the Melissa and Doug Fill and Spill Stuffed Toolbox instead of bringing home the Fill and Spill Pretty Purse to counter-balance all things Barbie and Disney Princess that make their way into our home. It was $17.19 (on sale) and compliments my girlfriend’s own tool belt.
Our final purchase was at Inkwell Modern Handmade Boutique & Letterpress Studio (1658 Market St), a showcase of printed paper goods, jewellery and other handmade art pieces from all around the world. I short-listed some prints involving small animals and kid-friendly typography, but decided on the locally screen printed image of a LEGO® person. It came to $21.28 and we ended up going $9.68 over our $100 budget.
On the walk home, I got myself a completely tuckered-out toddler (pictured above). Value: Priceless.
Addendum: Big Browse Downtown
- I had high hopes for Maritime Hobbies & Crafts (1521 Grafton St) but we weren’t in a train, rocket, model or kyte-flying mood. I was almost tempted by a copy of The Settlers of Catan, though.
- I popped into The Dancing Beaver Gallery, but it was a little too folk-arty/touristy for our taste.
- We breezed through Bishop’s Landing, Historic Properties and Scotia Square but didn’t end up finding much of anything new or noteworthy.
- We looked around at Sugah! (1479 Lower Water St) and they have some great treats for those with a sweet tooth and also some neat shirts that combine sea creatures with candy.
- We browsed the used bookstore Jade W (5233 Prince St), but I was a little overwhelmed and felt like I was an extra in an episode of Hoarders. They have a lot to choose from (second floor, left of the stairs), but you have to be in the mood to scavenge.
- United Bookstore is a spot I regularly check for great, random finds. I ended up getting the Art and Making of Monster House for about $12 for Rowan. Of course, I shopped there previously so I would have to use the excuse that Kenna hadn’t shopped there before if we did buy anything.