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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Big Day Downtown

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HALIFAX – Downtown Halifax has certainly gone through some changes in the past few years. While some of my favourite shops have come and gone, it’s important to remember that in order for downtown to thrive, it’s up to us to support the unique businesses, stores, and restaurants that call downtown home. Enter: The Big Day Downtown, a promotion from the Downtown Halifax Business Commission that highlights the great things to do in Halifax’s downtown core. 30 bloggers received $100 and were unleashed onto the mean streets of Halifax with one simple instruction: to document what they did with the money.

In the midst of moving from Woodside to Halifax, I actually found it hard to find the spare time to go out and spend the $100.  The dozens of unpacked boxes sometimes literally created a wall between me and the downtown shops I wanted to visit — only a 10-minute walk away from my new abode.

After a weekend of hard work, I’m ready to head downtown today after work to spend the remaining $50. The first $50? Here’s how I used it:

Sunny afternoons in Halifax are best spent on patios with good friends and good beer. Downtown Halifax has an abundance of patios, but the one with the best view is arguably Hart & Thistle in Historic Properties (my one-time workplace, at the quirky book and art store called Carrefour Atlantic Emporium), which sits right on the waterfront.

Hart & Thistle has great food, but the draw for me are the handcrafted ales that they switch up often. For my visit, I opted to have a Kneecapper, a delicious IRA that really hit the spot. My dinner companion had La Souris, a hoppy Saison.

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After having a bite to eat and a drink, I walked up to Barrington Street to visit one of my favourite bookstores — John W. Doull. Going to this store is an adventure. You can truly get lost in it. It has been one of my favourite stores to browse through since I first took the bus over to Halifax as a teenager.

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My favourite sections are divided between the main floor and upstairs — history and the Maritimes. The Maritimes room features great local fiction, and I was pleased to find a book by Andy MacDonald, a writer in his early 90s from Cape Breton who I met a month ago. Andy is also known as the creator and curator of Andy’s Dummy Farm — a “colony” of little people on the road to PEI. His farm is a must-see, and the book, Bread and Molasses, is very funny.

Upstairs in the history section, I picked up The Devil’s Gentleman by Harold Schechter, the true story of the infamous Victorian murderer, Roland Molineux.

After picking up my books, I headed to the Khyber Club for one my newest “must attend” events — the Carbon Arc film series. Great movies have been screened at the Khyber since July 15th, and will continue until the 9th of September. There is hope that Carbon Arc can movie upstairs into the Turret Room, and that permanent theatre seats and a projector can be installed.

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That evening I saw the unforgettable Peter Greenaway film The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover. It was introduced by NSCAD film professor and Greenaway expert Bruce Barber. Other movies I’ve watched at Carbon Arc include the very fun motorcycle movie Torque and the 1980s classic The Monster Squad. This week, a Nova Scotian comedy will be screening: A Bug and a Bag of Weed. It’s only $6.00 to attend, and refreshments are available. A small price to pay to enjoy a great film and support local independent screenings.

That ended “part one” of my Big Day Downtown. A few weeks later, I hit the streets again with my remaining $50.

My first stop was United Bookstore on Barrington Street, which has a good book selection for great prices.
United Bookstore

While the books are tempting, I usually like to check out the movies there before anything else. They usually have some interesting titles in stock, foreign films in particular.

I picked up a Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski film called Fitzcarraldo that I’ve been looking to see for quite a while. There’s also a pretty neat Roger Corman boxset in the store right now in case anyone wants to snag that before I change my mind and head back.

Kinski approves of my purchase

After leaving United, I hopped over to Venus Envy to see if Burlesque and the Art of the Teese (a history of burlesque by the lovely Dita Von Teese) was there. It wasn’t, but they graciously took down my information and promised to email me when it was back in stock.

Just off Barrington Street on Prince Street is the very fun Rock Candy Boutique which has thousands of metal, punk, rock, rap, and “entertainment” t-shirts. I think that it’s in the running for one of the most creatively decorated stores in Halifax.

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I browsed through the racks of t-shirts until I found what should be in everyone’s wardrobe: a pretty sweet Misfits shirt.

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The very helpful employee said that before major concerts (like Slayer/Megadeth) they tend to order extra stock, so you don’t need to worry if you can’t find yourself on concert day without appropriate attire–they’ll definitely hook you up.

With a little bit of money left, I decided I’d use my remaining cash to bring something home to eat, as it felt far too hot to cook. I decided on Burrito Jax, which I had tried for the first time a few weeks ago.

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It has the benefit of seeming like junk food, when in reality you can choose different toppings to make a pretty healthy burrito. I decided to go with a vegetarian version stuffed to the brim with tasty ingredients like sweet potato, guacamole, salsa, rice, and more good stuff.

Their food is priced so well I still had some money left over, so I walked up to Argyle Street to visit one of my favourite stores in Halifax, Biscuit. They always have great clothing brands that no one else in Halifax has, and their bargain basement usually has some good deals. I was browsing through the “kitschy” section neat the front of the store, when I happened to find a set of salt and pepper shakers that looked identical to my grandparents’ Siamese cats. I had to get them.

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That officially ended my Big Day Downtown (which I spread over three weeks). I often shop in that area, so it wasn’t a big departure for me to take part in this promotion. There is such a variety of things to see, do, and of course, eat and drink downtown that it was very difficult to pick what places to visit. I’m hoping that downtown Halifax is home to unique, local businesses for years to come, and that Haligonians support these businesses with their presence. It’s all together a much more pleasant experience shopping here than in the wastelands known as Dartmouth Crossing and Bayers Lake. Leave your car at home and take a walk through downtown Halifax.