We’ve all heard about the problems on Barrington Street, but the real story might be how longtime retailers have managed to survive and even thrive downtown, despite the closure of businesses, which recently have included CD Plus, Carsand Mosher and Peep Show Girly Boutique. And at press time, we’re receiving word that locally owned outdoor sports equipment supplier TAO: The Adventure Outfitters is moving from its Bayers Lake location to Barrington Street, into the newly renovated Freemason’s Hall, the former home of Locas. And check out Reality Bites for an interview with Starfish Properties' Louis Reznick on his vision for Barrington.
1566 Barrington Street, 423-2557
“We’re up from last year,” says the stylin’ home furnishings and accessories store co-owner Suzanne Saul, putting paid to the myth that business is down in every retailer on the street. “We work very hard...running up and down the stairs!” That’s four floors' worth of stairs, impressing folks who think that with their professionalism and scale, Attica must be a big chain. Unless you live in St. John’s---where they have one other location---Attica is a Halifax phenomenon. “We get great feedback from out-of-towners, wondering if they can find Attica in their city...people from Toronto or Los Angeles.” Saul, who owns the business with fellow NSCAD grad Christopher Joyce, says they moved Attica Kids from the former Bayers Lake location to the downtown store because they like having their business all under one roof. “I didn’t like going out there, myself.”
Just Us! Cafe
1678 Barrington Street, 422-5651
The eco-friendly coffee people have more going on than just chocolate and java these days. Erika LeBlanc, a manger at the Barrington location for three years, has joined forces with folks from shared meeting space The Hub (1673 Barrington, 482-4729), including Joanne Macrae, to help form a Barrington-area retail-support committee, loosely known as I Love Downtown. “It’s not a Downtown Halifax Business Commission initiative,” says LeBlanc, who says they’ve had interest from retailers as diverse as Little Mysteries Books, Freak Lunchbox, and Remedy Facial Bar & Spa on Granville Street. Macrae indicates the new group hasn’t formed in an effort to undermine the DHBC, but as a way for small businesses and managers to help support one another on their own. “We’ve met four or five times,” says LeBlanc, “brainstorming events and promotions to draw people downtown. We want to change the Barrington Street story.” Scott Colwell of Certainly Cinnamon (1673 Barrington, 423-2466) wrote a letter to the group, which Macrae shared with Shoptalk, including this thought: “After sitting on many committees and hearing countless speakers, it is time for action. Small scale ideas, pamphlets, walking tours linking the waterfront with the Spring Garden district though our own, will all help.” For more information on the committee, email LeBlanc at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1587 Barrington Street, 445-1056
It’s heartening to see that despite the high-profile closures of other music and media retailers recently, Random Play is still making a go of it. “We’re not a specialty store,” says Ryan DeMerchant, accounting for their survival. “We carry bits of everything,” including used DVDs, used CDs, new t-shirts and vinyl. With CD Plus gone, they’re one of the last places to trade in those silvery discs, “so our inventory should be growing,” he says.
1669 Barrington Street, 423-6980
“Tons and tons of books, more than ever,” says manager Dave McConnell of what’s new in the bookstore, which is also a Ticketpro outlet. “Next week we’re expecting 1,000 new remainders, if I can get them in. Tons of lit, tons of new poppy stuff.” Of the complexion of the street, he says he’s “holding his breath” for the new developments to improve things. “We’re doing OK, but I’m worried about tourist season. How many empty storefronts do tourists walk by before they go, ‘We’re in the wrong part of town?’”
1573 Barrington Street, 422-4544
Craig Sievert is the fourth generation of his family to run Sievert’s tobacco and gift shop, which started farther north on Barrington in 1870, but has been in its current location over 100 years, since “maybe 1906,” he says. He’s been there full time since 1980, and as a result has seen the changes run through Barrington Street. “Things aren’t too bad,” he says, shrugging. “One has to feel optimistic.” Open from 8pm to 6pm six days a week, Sievert’s used to be open later on Fridays and Saturdays, but now there isn’t the foot traffic to justify it. “And for security, one doesn’t feel safe.” He adds, with a chuckle, “And, we have a life.” He isn’t too impressed by the bureaucracy in city council, which he calls “not aggressive enough” in making positive changes. His storefront stares out at the old NFB building, gutted in a fire in 1991 and left as a hollow shell since. “It’s been almost 20 years since that fire. You wouldn’t see that on Spring Garden Road.”
1678 Barrington Street, 444-7433
Tune-ups ($30) and repairs are keeping the guys at Idealbikes busy, as it should be. “It’s what you want at this time of year,” says Chris Sweet. Also on their sched is building bicycles, ordering new bikes and a healthy business in high-end mountain bikes and road bikes. They run a maintenance clinic every Wednesday for those interested in learning how to take care of their own two-wheeled machines.
5222 Blowers Street, 429-6788
“WUSSUP HATERS,” demands the welcoming sticker on the front door of Pro Skates, the stalwart skate place just up the block from Barrington on Blowers. Right now, wussup is the fresh stock, 90 percent of which is brand new for spring. The hottest brand names include the Swedish clothing company WeSC as well as Nike SB, Adidas, Deathwish, Red Dragon, Studio, Megadestroyer and homegrown skateboards from, er, Homegrown. Coming soon is this season’s shop deck, or the in-house skateboard that’s a popular choice with customers, as it retails for a very reasonable $45. This year’s model will feature an image of a Cape Islander fishing boat.
Little Mysteries Books
1663 Barrington Street, 423-1313
A few weeks past their 15th Anniversary, Little Mysteries is still going strong “because we’ve been here for so long, we have a really good customer base,” says Vanessa Smith, who co-owns the store with her mother, Sandra. For those who don’t know, there’s plenty besides books inside, including giftware, jewellery and crafts, all resources for spiritual growth and discovery, including a number of precognitive experts who can do readings for you. For the future of the Barrington, Smith is hopeful, mentioning the success of events such as Nocturne. “It’s a great street, that’s why we came here in the first place.”