Shopping locally this Christmas is a gift to the Royal City

Presents around a Christmas tree.
Presents around a Christmas tree.

As the Christmas shopping season arrives with Black Friday in the US, I can’t think of anything more ridiculous than camping outside of a store in order to buy stuff. Except for shooting, trampling or pepper-spraying your fellow shoppers in order to get at said stuff, of which there were many reported instances this year.

In reaction to the frenzy, the Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters has created Occupy Christmas. It builds on the magazine’s long-running campaign, Buy Nothing Day, a day of rest from consumerism, as well as Occupy Wall Street, which the magazine also started.

Despite the recent controversial Occupy camps in various cities, including Vancouver, Occupy Christmas isn’t about setting up tents at the mall or harassing shoppers, or even, as the Retail Council of BC alleges in a recent CBC story, putting elves, er, retail workers out of a job. It’s about using your resources to “make the conscious decision to fuel your own local economy” during the holidays, and to “really become a part of the holiday spirit.”

In other words, supporting and giving back to your community while you celebrate what I like to call “Non-denominational gift-giving holiday!” So this year, I’m Occupying Christmas, here in New Westminster.

My holiday round usually starts with making greeting cards, and luckily, the best little paper shop around is Paper Poet (665 Columbia Street). They’ve got stamps, papercraft supplies, envelopes and loads of ideas for projects.

If you’re enthusiastic about crafts, but like me, suck at it, there are plenty of places to support others who are talented at making and growing things. Such as the Royal City Winter Market on December 3 and the River Market Holiday Show on December 10, 11, 17, and 18. The Van Dop Gallery, always amazing, is especially sparkly at Christmas (local jewellery, hint, hint to my honey).

For other gifts and decor, there’s a whole slew of local gift shops like Cadeaux, Red Brick, and Lofty Living. I wouldn’t turn down something vintage from Mid-Century Modern Home either! And for kids, Pedagogy Toys has lots of toys and books that encourage creativity, not battery use.

Presents don’t have to be stuff either – the older I get, the less stuff I want or need, so experiences make great presents. A class at the Circus School is good for all ages, or a wine club membership at Pacific Breeze for the over-19s. Then there are gift certificates for local restaurants or perhaps a ticket to a Christmas concert at the Massey. And if anyone wants to get me a ReUp BBQ Founders Crew membership to help crowdsource the funding for a New West location, the moaning you hear will be of pure bacon-filled happiness.

Which reminds me of another important part of Occupy Christmas – giving back locally and generously. From donating non-perishables to the local food bank at the Hyack Christmas Parade on December 19 to sponsoring a family in need to making a Christmas gift bag for a homeless person, there are many ways to help someone in the community have a brighter Christmas.

For me, Christmas isn’t about a bunch of obligatory presents. (Actually, it’s about 90% about the food!) You can think about what you’re shopping for and where the dollars go, and still enjoy Christmas with those you love. Doesn’t that sound sane? Then it must be crazy.

Christine Rowlands is a writer and editor in New Westminster. Her articles have appeared in alive and Momentum and she regularly writes reviews for Yelp. Her least favourite place in the world is Metrotown in December. 

Fresh fish, bread, gelato and *coffee* coming soon to River Market

Toby Barazzuol's poem "She slipped softly from a summer stream, as seamless as a summer's dream" is displayed on the north side of River Market in huge lettering. You can see it from the SkyTrain and from the pedestrian overpass linking the quay and Hyack Square. Photo: River Market.
Toby Barazzuol's poem "She slipped softly from a summer stream, as seamless as a summer's dream" is displayed on the north side of River Market in huge lettering. You can see it from the SkyTrain and from the pedestrian overpass linking the quay and Hyack Square. Photo: River Market.

The $5-million reno of the dilapidated old Quay is unquestionably beautiful. But since the shiny new River Market opened with much fanfare last November, many New Westminster folk whocame to see the new building were disappointed to find only a grocery store, a circus school and a lot of empty storefronts. Others (like me) were more willing to give River Market some time to find its feet.

People expected a short hiatus and a basic cosmetic reno, but River Market needed more than fresh paint and a bit of spackle. The building needed a lot of TLC, sure, but more importantly, it needed purpose. It wasn’t enough to just fill space. River Market’s mix of tenants needed to be strong enough to draw not only Quaysiders ambling by for a cup of coffee in the morning, but also lure new shoppers from (gasp!) outside New Westminster’s borders.

Since the initial opening, a few more shops have opened up. Great Wall Tea has cultivated a base of loyal customers returning regularly for a cuppa. Pedagogy Toys pulled up stakes from Sapperton and reopened in a fresh, larger space across from Vancouver Circus School, with kids’ classes in neighbouring Bloom Art Studio. Tiny Goods opened up and began selling artisan chocolates, wildberry jams and other locally made products (Disclosure: I’ve signed on to help launch Tiny).

But a lot of empty storefronts remained. And the questions continued. Would there be another cold beer & wine store? What happened to the florist? Is there any hot food? And most frequently asked of all, “Why can’t I get a cup of coffee?!”

Well, I’m happy to say River Market’s got some welcome news: coffee is coming, and a lot more too.

First let’s talk about the coffee. The Gallo brothers of Yaletown Gelato & Espresso Bar have signed on to open a location within River Market. I’ve sampled a few Yaletown Gelato flavours, and it is wonderful stuff. They will have a full-service espresso bar, as well as a variety of flavours of gelato, made on site with fresh fruit and other quality ingredients. Mmmm, gelato affogato.

Also newly announced:

  • The Crab Shop, selling fresh wild seafood and shellfish, plus fish ‘n chips to eat on site. Owner Marcel Gregori catches local crab himself.
  • A bakery featuring breads, sweets, and homemade comfort foods inspired by Spanish flavours, run by husband-and-wife team Alfonso Fernandez and Katia Mayo.
  • The Paddlewheeler Pub Liquor Store will reopen within River Market, selling beer, wine & spirits

While those tenants have now confirmed they’re coming to River Market, they have yet to design & outfit their spaces. River Market shoppers will have to be patient a little while longer for them to finish that work, but it’s good to have something specific to look forward to.

There are other shops that are close to opening, now and over the next few weeks:

  • Donald’s Deli opened this week, bringing sliced meat & cheese to Donald’s Market
  • Orlando’s Catering is close to finishing renovations, and will offer banquet and reception space up to 300 guests for weddings and corporate events (the largest capacity in New Westminster)
  • Fraser River Bike Tours & Rentals will offer bike rentals, guided tours and field trips within downtown New Westminster
  • Make Kitchen will produce takeaway meals, sauces, spreads and other delicacies right on site, as well as offering catering and cooking classes
  • And my personal favourite, Crepe Des Amis is aiming to open in April with a selection of fresh-made sweet and savoury whole wheat crepes, sweet apple cider and frozen yoghurt

It’s a relief to hear that so many great shops are coming to River Market, and like everyone else in New Westminster, I can’t wait to see them all open! This is only the beginning, and I’m sure we’ll soon see much more at River Market.

Pedagogy Toys to offer art & science classes for kids at River Market

River Market's Mark Shieh and Pedagogy Toys' Karen Smecher make the agreement official. Karen hopes to open the new Pedagogy Toys in River Market in early 2011. Photo: Pedagogy Toys
River Market's Mark Shieh and Pedagogy Toys' Karen Smecher make the agreement official. Karen hopes to open the new Pedagogy Toys in River Market in early 2011. Photo: Pedagogy Toys

New Westminster toy store Pedagogy Toys has been saved from closing thanks to a show of support from the community and a well-timed offer of skookum new digs in River Market at the Quay. Like so many other New West parents, I’m a fan of Pedagogy Toys, and so I wanted to find out more from owner Karen Smecher about the move from Sapperton to the Quay. Karen kindly agreed to answer a few questions via email:

How will the ‘new’ Pedagogy be different from the ‘old’? (or will it?)

Pedagogy will be better, it will be bigger and housed with like minded businesses in a fantastic setting. We will have the same retail features in a larger space which will allow as to branch out into larger products. In addition we will have a full classroom where Pedagogy Art will host Kim Chiem (registered art therapist) to work her magic on children of all ages. In addition we are going to have science drop-in classes and seasonal workshops for children. We are also launching fantasy Birthday Parties and this is just the beginning!

You said before that you planned to close the store. What changed your mind?

Since the news went out that we were scheduled to close, we have had such an overwhelming response from the community that it fully recharged my solar panels. Further more after being approached by Mark Shieh of River Market, we knew that here was a great opportunity to bring more into the community and Craig and I decided that we had to make it work!

When will you open the new store at River Market?

We hope to open Pedagogy Toys in Mid January and Pedagogy Arts in February. (fingers crossed)

On another note, have you got any tips for parents on what to buy their kids this Christmas?

Since children are very specific as to what they like at different ages all I can recommend to parents is:

1- Always look to see where the product is made,

2- Look for certification such as C E (stands for European Conformity meaning that a product in one of the controlled product categories cannot legally be sold in the EU unless it has passed the tests to receive the CE marking.) European standard EN 71 specifies safety requirements for toys. Compliance with the standard is legally required for all toys sold in the European Union. ASTM – American Society for Testing and Materials. CHPA – Canadian market toys standard and ISO – Australian market toys standard

3- Be aware of the recent report concerning PVC levels in toys, primarily branded lines. These companies spend all their money on the brand and very little on the quality of materials.

4- MOST important, if you like the toy, you are drawn to it and it engages you, then you will spend more time playing and communicating with the most important people in your life.

Pedagogy toys will be open in Sapperton during the Christmas season, at 424 East Columbia St., in New Westminster. You’re also welcome to join us for our Tenth to the Fraser Exclusive Shopping Night at Pedagogy Toys, Saturday, Nov. 20 from 7-9pm.

If you haven’t been to Pedagogy, this video made by BCIT Magazine might give you an idea of what kind of toy store to expect:

Sapperton revitalization more fragile than it seems

Poor Sapperton.

Around 2005/2006 I remember visiting Will before we were married at his old Cedar St. apartment. Sapperton then seemed pretty run-down and rough around the edges. When we bought our first condo together in New West a few years later, I refused to consider even looking in that part of New West.

But in the past couple of years, the area seemed to be improving. There was the start of a kids’ district in New West, with Pedagogy Toys, Kids Kloset and Dimpleskins, a few neat boutiques (Opulence & Cadeaux), a few good bakeries (Bella Cakes & Farm Cottage, which relocated from the Quay), and of course the new Starbucks (hey, I like my lattes). Now it’s looking like Sapperton’s revitalization was more fragile than it seemed.

The City of New West is doing streetscape improvements in the area. You’d think this would be a good thing. But when four months’ worth of construction turned into 10 months, customers just stopped coming. And now it looks like East Columbia is in crisis.

Kids Kloset relocated Uptown. Pedagogy Toys has said this may be their last Christmas season, unless sales are unexpectedly strong. And now Bella Cakes says it may not be able to last much longer either.

On the bright side, I hear that newly opened Graze Market & Deli is amazing. Holland Shopping Centre seems to be doing pretty well since moving from 8th Ave. in Glenbrook to Columbia. And (a mixed success) Karmavore is doing so well that they are relocating to a much larger location … only it’s in Downtown New West!

Sapperton’s boutiques haven’t been shuttered yet. Fie on the roadwork! I’m going to make a point of doing at least one pre-Christmas shopping trip in Sapperton this year and I hope you do the same.

Have I missed any great Sapperton shops or restaurants that could use some link lovin’ (and customers!)?

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.