Hyack the Holidays: That special something

New Westminster is a haven for unique boutiques. Perhaps it’s the character buildings lining our main shopping districts chock-a-block that draw the proprietors of these neat little businesses … or maybe just the low rents that can be found in some of our legendarily ‘up and coming’ neighbourhoods.

Here are some of my picks for places to go when you’re looking for that unique ‘special something’ for the person who’s hard to buy for.

Opulence, 437 E. Columbia St.

What a fun store to browse. Opulence specializes in everything Art Deco and Art Nouveau. It’s an eclectic assortment of jewelry, art prints, books, textiles, soaps & hand creams, with a few vintage lamps and other home accessories in the mix. I’m not a hand cream girl, but even I was seduced by the pretty period packaging. When the kids are big enough that they stop tugging at my earrings and breaking my necklaces, I plan on coming back to Opulence and treating myself to some bling.

Cadeaux, 467 E. Columbia St.

Cadeaux is well known for its jewelry and soaps, but they also have quite a collection of Christmas ornaments and silly stocking stuffers, as well as luxury pajama sets in the back.

Karmavore, 569 E. Columbia St.

A vegan specialty store, this is obviously an excellent place to find vegan beauty products, marshmallows , and ‘message’ stickers and jewelry. It’s also home to Astrosatchel bags, which even carnivores must admit are just plain stylish.

Clever Mink’s, 711 Carnarvon St.

Tucked away from the main drag, Clever Mink’s owners Brad and Nancy Gephart fill their cozy store with things that are just plain … neat. Funny T-shirts (that really will make you laugh), home decor and stocking stuffers … you never know quite what you’ll come across at Clever Mink’s.

Urban Gypsy, 614 Columbia St.

A Columbia St. favourite, Urban Gypsy stocks exotic furniture, jewelry and art from India, Nepal and other parts of South Asia. Owner Jason McGill has a keen eye for the unique and the beautiful. While most of the stock is big-ticket items like furniture, the jewelry is quite reasonably priced and there’s always a selection of smaller items near the back – things like photo frames, paper journals, candleholders and so on.

Lofty Living, 610 Columbia St.

At Lofty Living, they’ve got a thing for birds. You’ll find arty avians on pillows, laptop bags, cards, placemats … even salt & pepper shakers. I always love to browse through the store – and not just because I happen to like birds! With so many antique stores in New West, it’s refreshing to see a sleek, modern look juxtaposed with our heritage architecture.

Tranquility Art & Gifts, Royal City Centre

Ok, so this is the kind of store I wouldn’t normally bother to check out; I’m usually not too impressed with mall stores that sell framed art prints. But in planning the Hyack the Holidays series, I made a special effort to step into stores I wouldn’t normally frequent just in case there were some hidden gems. To my surprise, this was one of them. While I’m just not the target market for the scented soaps and Easter Island tissue holders (you pull the tissue out the nose of the “faux-pierre” face …) I actually ended up buying a few things in there. I’d recommend stopping in here if you’re looking for stocking stuffers (things like reusable fabric bags that tuck away into a wallet-sized pouch, pretty matchboxes, scalp massagers, Christmas ornaments and small stuffed animals) or for women’s accessories. I bought a collapsible red wool cloche hat for myself and thought the handbags and jewelry would be worth a look if I had another woman to buy for.

Adriana’s, Royal City Centre

Again with the scented everything … but there were also some cute & colourful kitchen and garden accessories that would be great stocking stuffers for a woman. When I was in, Adriana’s had bird-shaped kitchen scissors, pretty painted garden trowels and veggie scrub brushes, and special hand creams for gardeners.

Hyack the Holidays: Gifts for Kids

With a DS- and Pokemon-obsessed eight-year-old stepson, a two-year-old whose alter ego is Prince Philip the Knight and a newborn girl I’m looking forward to spoil, I’ve had a personal interest in finding good local Christmas gifts & activities for kiddies.

Here’s where I’ve been shopping for gifts for my kids here in New West. (Hint: Sapperton is the place to be!)

Pedagogy Toys, 424 East Columbia St.

Pedagogy Toys at 434 Columbia St., New Westminster.
Pedagogy Toys in New Westminster.

If  cartoon character-branded toys turn you off, look here for toys for your toddler to preteen. Pedagogy has loads of family games, including some for as young as three, science & craft kids for older kids, handmade Christmas Crackers and loads of stocking stuffer toys. I particularly like the WOW Toys line of friction-powered cars & trucks for toddlers (my son is enthralled with the fire truck, as you will read below ….) and the build-your-own marble run by Quadrilla. Pedagogy also carries Settlers of Catan, among other excellent games.

Unlike Toys-R-Us, Pedagogy is actually kid-friendly: there’s a play table in the back with a small selection of toys to keep small kids busy while you shop.

Owner Karen Smecher has a pack of small children at home, and so she is savvy to the travails of mothers shopping with toddlers. The first time I took my son there, I hadn’t cottoned on to the magic of the timer (i.e. a warning that when the timer on my phone goes, it’s time to leave) and, typically two, my sweet Wesley was on the verge of an all-out tantrum to protest being taken away from playing with Ernie the Fire Truck. Karen swooped in to the rescue with the offer of a ‘pocket penguin’ to take home. She strategically positioned herself and the bucket of tiny penguin figurines by the door, and after he chose his penguins (one for each hand, of course) he was so preoccupied with taking them in and out of his pockets that he didn’t protest at all at being ushered out the door. Now that’s service.

Next to Pedagogy, you’ll find Kids Kloset (420 East Columbia St.), a consignment store that also has new clothing and accessories for sale. I find Kids Kloset a bit crowded, but they have some adorable rain gear for toddlers and last time I was in, I was admiring the stylish diaper bags & lunch bags for Mom.

A few other gift ideas I had for kids in the Sapperton area:

If you’re shopping for a little girl, you should mosey on over to 12th St. and  check out Kiss A Frog (948 12th St.) too. While they carry toys and clothing suitable for both girls and boys, they have a stunning selection of girls’ party dresses and fancy accessories that will make you melt – not to mention light up your daughter’s eyes when she sees it! You can also find Melissa & Doug style wooden toys here, and some unusual kids’ things. This is where Santa has sourced the miniature accordion and wind-up dino Wesley will find under the tree Christmas Day, for example.

Clever Mink’s (711 Carnarvon), one of our sponsors, often has toys among their selection of eclectic gifts. Last year I bought a lovely wooden train puzzle/pull-toy for Wesley there.

Parents of Lego maniacs should also stop by Shamryn Hobbies (612 Carnarvon St.) for an impressive selection of Lego kits, model trains and (oddly) Webkinz. Plus, there’s a pre-Christmas sale on right now and everything in the store is 20-30% off.

I also did a local crafter search on Etsy, and found a couple of neat gift ideas made right here in New West:

If shopping online is more your style, Pinky & Company, run by local mom of two Alix Cote (also a sponsor of our blog), sells baby leggings, ironic T-shirts for toddlers, diaper bags for dads, ‘hooter hiders’ for nursing moms and more.

Passport to local discounts and discovery

This is a guest post by Nancy Gephart from Clever Mink’s Gifts, ‘the minksiest gift shop in the Lower Mainland,’ at 711 Carnarvon St.

Tourism New Westminster has a terrific new campaign this summer, the “Passport 150”. It is a part of the city’s 150th Anniversary celebration and it is an excellent chance to explore the city’s shops, restaurants, galleries, theatres, festivals and attractions. The way it works is simple:

1) Pick up a free Passport at any participating business (I have them here at Clever Mink’s Gifts) or at any of the locations listed on Tourism New Westminster’s website.

2) Have your Passport stamped when you visit the many participants around town. You’ll be surpised by how many there are! There is no hurry, the Passport is valid until October 15. Almost all of the participants are offering a discount or promotional goody when you present the Passport for stamping.

3) On October 16 enter your stamped passport into the drawing for prizes (with 25 or more stamps).

This is a wonderful opportunity to shop, dine, and play locally. And it is a really good excuse to do the “tourist” thing in our own city. As New West celebrates its sesquicentennial, why not venture out and see how many stamps you can collect over the summer. The Passport also has a handy Calendar of Events. And did I mention the discounts? Sweet!

Shopping local is good for the soul

This is a guest post by Brad Howard of Clever Mink’s, a great little gift shop at 711 Carnarvon St. If you’ve got an idea for a guest post, go ahead and drop us a line

Having never blogged before I found the idea daunting so I sought out some friends’ opinions. Some said you’ve got to open big to grab the reader. You’ve only got 4.3 seconds of their attention (that might be last year’s figure, this year’s is doubtlessly shorter) or they’ll move on to something splashier. Make ’em laugh or make ’em cry. Talk about how to get crazy good sex or how to lose weight in an hour or about how to find inner peace but in a really fun and exciting way.

Others suggested it would be better for me to start small but be authoritative by sticking to a narrow topic that I know extremely well. Cleaning out a cat box comes to mind as does muttering to myself when stuck in traffic. Hard to imagine though, how either of those will stoke the fires of passion and controversy that fuel this strange critter known as the blogosphere. Even the word “blogosphere” seems a bit foreign to me, rolling awkwardly off my tongue like when I try to work rechereche into a conversation.

I am non-digerati, growing up in a time when computers were only seen on TV shows where they always occupied an entire room, were covered in rapidly spinning spools for some reason, and were often at work in some nefarious world-threatening plot. Or sometimes they were saving the world from said plot but suffice to say there was generally a plot involved. Cut to the present and the whole computer thing turned out to be more about letting a bunch of regular people express their thoughts and try to be interesting doing it. I’m not sure I’m up to that.

Clever Mink’s is a gift shop with a funny name and, like as not, you’ve never heard of us. The fault for that is on us, of course, with our marketing plan that relied perhaps too heavily on mental telepathy and optimism. Nevertheless, we do exist and we do most of our existing right here in New West. Proudly so, not only as new business owners and residents in town but as new immigrants to this country.

We left the States, Bush refugees we have been called and worse, a tad over a year ago to venture into this lush green (sometimes white) land of yours with a plan firmly in mind to try to do something fun. And fun it has been, as only the commitment of a good chunk of one’s savings into a strange new business during the most perilous of economic times can be fun. Other words leap to mind as well but fun is really the pick of that litter.

We decided to open our humble establishment during the dead of summer and on a street, we only subsequently learned, that had a city-wide reputation as being a great place to avoid ever going. Luckily for us our new neighbors at The Hideout Cafe, Shamryn’s Hobby Shop, Queen’s Park Florist, and the many others hereabout have welcomed us warmly and made us feel at home in this spot. Best of all have been our great customers, those stalwart few who’ve bucked the area’s bad rep and actually managed to find us and have begun to spread the word about us far better than we ever could do ourselves. A big shout-out and thanks to you all.

Now I can’t say as it’ll improve your sex life or help you lose weight or give you that exciting version of inner peace you’ve been looking for, but shopping local stores is good for the soul, no doubt about it. And good for the town.

It may be an old idea but a town needs to be more than a mere collection of homes where working people rest their heads. Any town worthy of its name, especially one that possesses the rich history and character that ours does, needs its shops and markets, pubs, eateries, theatres and galleries in order to remain vibrant and liveable.

We like to think that someday soon all of us will look back at 2008 as the beginning of a renaissance in the downtown core, the time when New West decided to reclaim its place as the jewel on the banks of the Fraser river. But then we have to be optimists- we’re business owners. Happy Holidays to all.

Come visit us at 711 Carnarvon St. or online at www.cleverminks.com.

Ask for Nancy or her sidekick Brad.

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