Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Edmonton Escapade - Shopping, Blogging, and Exchanging

Well, people, if you've read my last three blog posts you know that I spent a couple of days in Edmonton last week as the guest of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. They had invited me to come down to attend their annual luncheon, but also to experience some of Edmonton. When Crystal, the lovely EEDC employee who arranged my itinerary, contacted me she noted that she had seen from my Twitter feed that I'm rather fond of shoes - and asked if I would like to go on a shopping tour with one of Edmonton's top fashion and lifestyle bloggers, Kendall Barber.

And it's true, people. I have a terrible, terrible weakness for shoes. I also like clothing, dresses in particular. I suppose I am a bit of a fashion junkie, something that occasionally takes people by surprise if they have not met me before. Then again some readers have been shocked to discover that I'm a woman so I guess that they don't always know much about me should be rather obvious, I suppose. So when Crystal suggested this shopping junket I said "yes" very politely while screaming "woohoo" inside, and she sent me Kendall's email address.

Kendall writes a very popular and successful blog called "City and Dale: Edmonton Style and Happenings". It's a fabulous blog that focuses on Edmonton, and particularly on independent businesses in the city. It's a bit like this blog, just with a more specific focus (okay, I might have some form of blogger ADHD as I tend to try to cover everything from politics to small business to non profits to...well, whatever you've got there is a good chance if it relates to Fort Mac I'll write about it). 

I raced back to the Union Bank Inn after the EEDC luncheon to change. Kendall had suggested wearing comfortable shoes for walking so I put on sensible shoes (well, sensible for me, which means the stilettos stayed in my suitcase) and I headed down to the lobby to meet her. I found a young woman with a delightful smile and lovely fashion sense - and a wonderful personality to boot. As she and I walked we chatted about what she does in Edmonton, and about the things she plans to do. Over the course of the next couple of hours we talked a lot, actually, and I learned a great deal about Kendall, and about how all bloggers are perhaps a bit similar. I also learned a lot about shopping in Edmonton, and I'd like to share some of that with you because I found some great spots I know I will be return to.

Our first stop was Blu's, a little store in the Manulife Centre on Jasper. Blu's carries designer fashion, but also shoes, and I was delighted to see shoes from my very favourite Canadian shoe company Fluevog. Fluevog began in Vancouver 40 years ago, owned by shoe designer John Fluevog. Now, Fluevogs are admittedly unusual, and they are not for the faint of heart. They are, however, unique, comfortable, and incredibly good quality shoes, and I admit to owning many pairs. I checked out the selection, and then it was on to our next stop in the Centre, Pravda Shoes.

Pravda carries unusual shoe lines too, and I was intrigued by some of them. Again it appealed to my eclectic nature, shoes that are wearable and unusual but not bizarre. It's a small store but it appears to be heavily trafficked by downtown businesswomen so I suspect it's safe to say they have shod many of Edmonton's downtown fashionistas.

After we left the Manulife Centre we headed off on a short walk to a street I didn't even know existed. Kendall took me to a place now being called the "4th Street Promenade", a stretch of 104th Street. This is apparently the street where the farmer's market is held during the summer months, and this is a street that has been undergoing some changes in recent years. You see, the city has determined that this street should become a sort of pedestrian shopping, eating, and living mecca, and so this street is quietly transforming into exactly that. 

The buildings on the promenade are heritage buildings of the sort that intrigue you. Many of the upper floors are being converted into condos while the main floors are being occupied by independent and unique retailers of everything from clothing to food to furniture. Kendall took me into a few of the shops and I was absolutely delighted by the spaces, from the original hardwood or tile flooring to soaring ceilings and beautiful vintage hardware. I spent most of my twenties in Toronto and it reminded me of certain areas in that city, places where the past has been carefully preserved while the modern has moved in to join it.

And the modern is there on the 4th Street Promenade, with stores like 29 Armstrong, a retailer of furniture and household goods. This table, of BC timber, particularly caught my eye, but so much of what is sold at the store is beautiful and unusual.

Then downstairs from 29 Armstrong is Dauphine Bakery, and what a wonderful story exists behind this bakery. You see, it began as a stall at the farmer's market on the street outside, but was so successful that the owner decided to take the leap and open an actual storefront bakery. So beautiful, so crisp and white and airy, the space is lovely and so are the baked goods. Still stuffed from the EEDC luncheon I couldn't try one bite, but I know I will return one day to sample those baked items, especially the tarts, as baked goods are a terrible weakness for me.

We walked down the street a bit further and found a spot called Coup, a clothing retailer. I was pleased to find a beautiful space yet again, and filled with even more beautiful clothing. It takes a bold retailer to break away from the standard offerings but Coup has taken the leap and retails clothing that is a bit more unusual and unique. Lovely fabrics, stunning colours, and clearly with a good eye for fashion Coup carries some wonderful things, and I chatted with the owner briefly. She commented that she and her partner have talked about bringing a pop-up store to Fort Mac, and I offered my card and my assistance should they wish to do (I'm shameless, people, I take every opportunity to encourage people to come here, and frankly we could do with some of these retail options every now and then, I think).

I was deeply impressed by the Promenade, to be honest. The eventual plan is to perhaps close the street to vehicle traffic altogether, creating a pedestrian mall of the sort you find in most major cities, and I think it's a terrific plan. The way to revitalize and re-energize downtown cores is to do exactly this, turn them into places where you can buy a condo and eat tarts and buy unusual clothing. You turn the downtown core into not just a place to work but to live and eat and shop, too.

After we left the Promenade we hopped into Kendall's car and drove to a store called Who Cares, another spot for clothing and shoes, and I was pleased to once again discover an independent retailer with a keen eye for fashion. When Kendall introduced me, though, I discovered something else - the owner is originally from Fort Mac. She was, in fact, born and raised here, and we laughed a little at the coincidence as we chatted. I perused the clothes and shoes and we chatted about Fort Mac and about how she had been happy to grow up here - and I was, of course, delighted. When we left we hopped into Kendall's car again and headed to yet some more stores.

Kendall took me next to a neighbourhood close to Glenora, 124th Street and area. We headed first to a store called TK Clothing, one I actually follow on Twitter, and I checked out the styles while Kendall chatted with the owner. We then headed next door as I had spotted hats and shoes, and we found a lovely little shop called Headcase Hats. With an amazing selection of hats and eclectic shoes it's a great spot for those with a taste for the unusual or unique. When we had finished there we headed across the street and towards another store called Miss Boss. Now, Miss Boss doesn't carry shoes, but they do carry handbags and jewelry, which is almost as good. I was especially taken with a green Matt and Nat bag but resisted as I was treating this as an exploration rather than a personal indulgence trip, and so off we went a couple of door down to Shades of Grey where we found...someone else who had been born and raised in Fort Mac.

Shades of Grey is another independent fashion retailer, this one owned by three sisters - all of whom grew up in Fort Mac. It was once again a wonderful little coincidence, and while I chatted with one of the owners I took in yet another store with terrific fashion offerings (and I'm starting to think we just might have some very good fashion sense coming out of this city, people, and it's running stores in Edmonton).

Finally Kendall and I headed to the last three stores we would visit together. Red Ribbon is an eclectic little mix of men's and women's clothing, with some very unusual pieces. Pear Tree caught my eye as their display was festooned in Union Jacks, and I have a particular fondness for that flag (and for the country it represents). Right across from them we headed into Vespucci Consignment, and there I found perhaps my favourite store from our entire trip. Once people get past the "consignment" part of the name (meaning "used") they can find some incredible things at such stores. Vespucci just might be the best consignment store I have ever seen, huge, well-organized, and with someone at the helm who clearly understands what constitutes good clothing. I saw labels from virtually every designer, and shoes, too, including Prada. When one considers that new designer shoes can retail for more than $1000 and can be bought at Vespucci for a fraction of that suddenly consignment sounds like a very, very appealing idea. I will be going back to Vespucci, but when I have time to spend perusing aisles and racks and hunting for hidden fashion treasures.

In fact I will be heading back to most of the retailers we visited, and next time I take my family to Edmonton we will head to the Fourth Street Promenade. We will eat tarts and look at furniture and enjoy a lovely little street of the kind I enjoy the most. I can't wait to show them what I discovered there.

I wanted to share a couple more things with you, people. I wanted, with Kendall's permission, to share a bit of her story about her blog. You see, Kendall moved to Edmonton from Vancouver, and she was unhappy. She missed Vancouver, and she hated Edmonton. She couldn't find her niche, she couldn't find a place to fit in, and she just was miserable. One day, though, after her mother told her she was coming over to help her pack so she could move (and her mom could stop listening to her complaining) she decided she was in control of her destiny in Edmonton. She began to write a little email newsletter about Edmonton, and sent it to a few people. She began going to events where she didn't know anyone, and she began meeting people. She eventually started her blog, and along the way something happened. She stopped hating Edmonton. In fact, she began loving it. She began to feel protective of it. She began to see all the good things while recognizing the problems. She embraced her city, and it embraced her right back, making her blog successful. And now Kendall has a community. In every store we walked into they knew Kendall. They are her friends and her peers. They are her community. And as I watched Kendall interact with the shop owners I knew exactly how that felt because my blog experience is so similar to hers, people. I have met people, and I have found a community that is far stronger, far more powerful, far more interesting, and far, far more precious than I could have ever imagined.

Oh, and the last thing to share? After Kendall and I parted ways when she dropped me at my hotel I trotted down the street and back to Wener Shoes. I had spotted a pair of boots when I had been there the day before, and I had to try them on. I flew inside the store, tried them on - and fell in love, of course, with a little pair of grey and blue boots from Fly London. This is them, and they came home with me:

So, at the end of the day people I had a new pair of shoes, several new stores I wanted to visit again, a new friend in a fellow blogger, a fuller understanding of Edmonton - and a renewed appreciation for the people of my own city, including those who grew up here but now live in another city, and, who when told I am from Fort Mac opened their hearts and stories of life here to me. It was just another amazing day of Fort McMurray-Edmonton story exchanging - and, well, a day of bloggers, shopping, and shoes, too. Pretty much damn perfect, people, perfect.

My sincere gratitude to Edmonton blogger
Kendall Barber
for her time, 
the shopping tour, 
and sharing her story with me!

Tomorrow the final instalment
of the Edmonton Escapade -
"A Midsummer Night's Dream"
at Citadel Theatre,
and what happens when
an Audi almost hits a 
certain blogger in a crosswalk.

1 comment:

  1. Look at that shoe! Is that from a designer label? Amazing! I only collect birkenstock in brisbane shoes but for what it's worth, I would gladly add that any time of the day.