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.

The New Westminster Quay Market is Dead. Long live River Market!

The grand opening of Donald's Market drew a big crowd. Photo: Briana Tomkinson
The grand opening of Donald's Market drew a big crowd. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Today was the big reveal of Donald’s Market at River Market. Wow, can you believe that it was back in April that we finally learned who the New West River Market grocer tenant was? “Who would it be?” we all asked after months of guessing and deduction and mercelessly prodding River Market owener, Mark Shieh. But he wouldn’t say. Like Chuck Norris being interrogated by ex-soviet uranium smugglers, he vowed never to reveal the secret…. until finally, on March 31, he did.

And now, on the first day of snow at the beginning of the great winter of 2010/2011, more than half way through November, we can all see what Mark and his team from River Market have been building. I had my preconceptions: It would be small. It would be overpriced. Everything would be a little too crunchy, a little too righteous – a little too trendy for me and the gal I go with.

Donald's produce is great quality, good prices and reasonable selection. Photo: Briana Tomkinson
Donald's produce is great quality, good prices and reasonable selection. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

But I was happily surprised! Sure there is a bit more space for Seventh Generation detergents and Happy Planet and Enviro Kidz and Nature’s Path, but they are part of the mix along side specialty foods, imported brands and food products from small producers and cottage industries. This was what I found to be the most compelling about this store: it has manages to differentiate itself from other options in town while not alienating the majority of potential shoppers with hard-to-sell product choices.

Other pluses: the prices are pretty good. Produce was of great quality and reasonable selection, at prices better than most New Westminsterites are used to (especially those reliant on the IGA). The quality was so good that even the small amount of fruit that we did buy (49c bannanas BTW) tasted noticeably better than the average. Prices through the whole store were in line with Safeway or Save-On-Foods – and better in some cases, as you would expect for a Grand Opening Sale. The Store was crowded and a little hard to move in but the staff were keen and helpful and obviously proud of their opening. Lots of Island Farms and Olympic Dairy products, Saltspring and Latin Organics brand coffee, bulk foods etc.

Another local blogger, Sheila Keenan, had a similar impression:

I’m not going to lie. I had my doubts, especially given that the renovations dragged on for so long and at least one of the tenant choices seemed goofy. When I heard the Vancouver Circus School was a tenant I was skeptical. What the heck is a circus school doing in a market? After attending the grand opening today, I found out what it’s doing there: being awesome. After all, which grocery store would you rather go to: normal grocery store with just groceries or grocery store where there’s a guy doing a handstand all the way down the escalator and a girl juggling all the way up? I pick the grocery store with the circus school. (In addition to classes, they are also going to offer birthday party packages.) I actually got a little teary-eyed on the drive home, thinking to myself that this marvelous place is in New Westminster.

I will be cautious in my criticism, as I am sure Donald’s and the River Market have a lot of work left to do, but there were some points I wanted to raise:

1)It is a tightly packed space. Sure it was crowded today, but even with normal foot traffic, I cannot see how anyone in a wheelchair, scooter or large stroller could navigate without a series of blushful apologies. The arrangement of cashiers doesnt help, but it is plain that Donald’s is making the most use of the space available.

Opening-day shoppers at Donald's also got to tour the rest of the River Market space (though much of it is still under construction). Photo: Briana Tomkinson
Opening-day shoppers at Donald's also got to tour the rest of the River Market space (though much of it is still under construction). Photo: Briana Tomkinson

2) Parking. It is the rare supermarket that requires a 200-meter walk to a paid parking lot. Donald’s will cater to a core clientele of condo-dwellers from the Quay and Downtown New West buying 2-3 bags of groceries, and it will feature a bicycle delivery service. But those of us in Queens Park and the West End who appreciate the curated inventory Donald’s offers will begrudge paying a $2.50 parking bill for the honour of lugging fancy groceries to the other side of the Fraser River Discovery Centre. I suggest a golf cart with a trolley behind it, like a hayride but no, um, hay. “Aaaaawll Abooord! River Market to Riverside Park by way of parking kiosk A and B!”

3) Similarly, the way into the rest of the market from Donald’s seems restrictive; like a too-narrow hallway. Do they need that wall there? For a packed space, they should use all of the free air space they can get.

That is about it! I think Donald’s will help to disperse the malaise that has settled in the minds of locals since the Quay Market closed. The New Westminster Quay Market is Dead. Long live River Market!

For more photos of the new Donald’s Market at River Market, please see the album on our Facebook Page.

Taking the plunge into community involvement

This is a guest post by New West resident Paul Goodrick. You can find him on Twitter as @duckbeaver and on his blog at

Since moving to New Westminster over a year ago, I’ve really been keen on becoming more active in the community but it always seemed one thing or another confounded my attempts. So when a notice showed up on my building’s door announcing an upcoming meeting for the New Westminster Downtown Residents Association, I took the plunge.

Showing up just as things were getting set up, I was able to quickly register. A short form, $5 annual dues and I was a member! After some quick procedural business, guest speakers took to the floor and talked about some issues, both local and regional.

Jayne Petula, Film Coordinator for the City of New Westminster gave a brief talk on filming happening in the downtown area. She also outlined efforts to promote shooting in all parts of the city, an important piece of the local economy. A couple concerns were raised, such as the impact of crews filming all night on Columbia and access to businesses. Jayne was happy to answer questions around the rules the city has in place to balance the needs of film crews with those of local businesses and residents. Meeting chair Andrew Boyd noted that relations between locals and studios had been good under both Jayne and her predecessor.

Next up was Travis Johnson of the Vancouver Circus School, the circus school located in the Quayside River Market. Travis shared they currently had a short term lease while the Quay was undergoing renovations but hoped to sign a long term lease soon, and were very committed to New Westminster. He talked a little about the recreational programs the school offered and their growing outreach with local schools. Nigel Wakita, Canada’s reigning National Yo Yo champion (and educational coordinator of the VCS) gave a demonstration – quite the unexpected surprise on my civic adventure!

Reena Meijer Drees, (who recently wrote her own guest post on Tenth to the Fraser) was there to talk about electoral reform and STV. Downtown residents seemed to have a good understanding of the issue and Reena fielded several insightful questions during a pretty engaging discussion.

Some committee reports were given, adding to my understanding of some local issues, including:

  • Homelessness Coalition,
  • Traffic Advisory,
  • Community Policing,
  • and Farmers’ Market.

I’ll definitely be at the next meeting and even volunteered to help out with the annual community barbecue happening at the end of July. Andrew mentioned they were always open to having more people come down and get involved and I’ll be sure to mention the association to my New West friends.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Circus classes now offered at the Quay

I knew the new owners of the Quay market were looking to do things differently, but I never expected this. 

The River Market at the Quay is now offering classes from the Vancouver Circus School in Aerial Silk, Swinging Trapeze, and Aerial Arts. The circus director is Aaron Johnson, who was an acrobatic coach for Cirque Du Soleil, and (according to the River Market newsletter) has “strong roots in New West.”

The Market’s renovations are still ongoing, and are not expected to be complete until late 2009. Holding on through the renos are:

  • Top Gun Sushi
  • Paddlewheeler Pub
  • Paddlewheeler Liquor Store
  • Paddlewheeler Boat Tours
  • Laguna Blu Restaurant
  • Riva Cafe
  • Imperial Pharmacy
  • Vancouver Circus School
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]