Brewery Districts: Edmonton vs Calgary

On a recent trip to Edmonton, I was excited to discover they have begun to develop a Brewery District at the old Molson Brewery site at 104 Avenue and 121 Street.  However, upon further exploration, I was left scratching my head, wondering why they would allow a suburban power centre (multiple, stand alone buildings far away from the sidewalk with a big surface parking lot in front) at the west end of their City Centre. 
  Unfortunately all of the main buildings in Edmonton's Brewery District area separated from the street by a major surface parking lot, making it less pedestrian friendly. It is more like a suburban power centre design with several independent low-rise buildings each with there own surface parking lot.

Unfortunately all of the main buildings in Edmonton's Brewery District area separated from the street by a major surface parking lot, making it less pedestrian friendly. It is more like a suburban power centre design with several independent low-rise buildings each with there own surface parking lot.

Missed Opportunity

In this prime urban location, one would expect the stores to line the sidewalk with all parking underground (only 66% of the parking is underground) and mid-rise (8 to 15-storeys) retail, residential and office above.  Instead, the site is dominated by a big surface parking lot with low-rise buildings far away from the sidewalk.

There is absolutely no connectivity to the neighbouring Oliver community, a feature contrary to good urban development.  And although plans call for a direct link to the future 120th Street LRT Station, that still doesn’t excuse the lack of connectivity to Oliver.

Sure, they have used brick to link to the old brewery, incorporated some internal sidewalks and added some patios, but the result is most definitely a car-oriented development - in my opinion, a missed opportunity.   

Is Edmonton so desperate for downtown development they felt they had to approve this suburban project in their City Centre?
  City Market in Edmonton's Brewery District is a full-scale grocery store that meets the diversity residents' needs.  

City Market in Edmonton's Brewery District is a full-scale grocery store that meets the diversity residents' needs. 

Impressed!

On the flip side, there was one element of Edmonton’s Brewery District that I most was impressed with, Loblaws' City Market with Winners store directly above.

The City Market, at approximately 40,000 square feet (yes, I eye-balled it) is a full-size grocery store, not a boutique store dominated by high-priced organic produce and specialty products.  The selection was great as were the prices; there was even a bin at the entrance with free bananas for kids! Never seen that before!

The City Market concept is what Loblaws has planned as part of the mega full-block development in Calgary’s East Village, development which will also include two residential towers (500 condos within 40- and 23-storey towers) and 188,000 square feet of street and second floor retail space, all branded as 5th & THIRD.  Now that is good urban development i.e. diversity of uses and density.

  Loblaws City Market concept borrows liberally from Whole Foods as an urban grocery store.  It will be a welcome addition to Calgary's East Village. 

Loblaws City Market concept borrows liberally from Whole Foods as an urban grocery store.  It will be a welcome addition to Calgary's East Village. 

  Arris condos above a retail podium at street level and second floor in Caglary's East Village is under construction which will include a Loblaws City Market. 

Arris condos above a retail podium at street level and second floor in Caglary's East Village is under construction which will include a Loblaws City Market. 

Sharp Edge

How big is 188,000 square feet, you ask?  A little bigger than Eau Claire Market.  With Loblaws City Market and Shoppers Drug Mart as Arris’ retail anchors, East Villagers, by the end of 2018, will have their everyday needs met within easy walking distance. This is essential to making East Village a postcard for North American 21st century urban villages.

The name “Arris” refers to a sharp edge formed by the meeting of two flat or curved surfaces. At this point, RioCan (retail developers) and EmbassyBOSA (residential developer) have integrated, as best as possible, best practices in urban design as possible into Arris. 

And, while the Arris name was originally in reference to the architecture, it could also reflect the sharp edge where retail and residential uses meet the sharp edge between success and failure.

Calgary’s Fledgling Brewery District

Calgary Brewery buildings have lots of character, but are in very poor shape and don't lend themselves to repurposing. 

In the spring of 2015, I toured the Calgary Brewery & Malting Company historic site (Calgary’s potential brewery district in Inglewood) with Eileen Stan, Development Manager with M2i Development Corporation, the company who currently owns this site which has been vacant since 1994. 

This is arguably one of the most complex redevelopment projects in Canada today given the 20+ buildings and various states of their decay. The site also has the largest collection of sandstone buildings in the city outside of Stephen Avenue, creating some interesting preservation challenges and opportunities.  

While Calgary’s current economic downturn has put any major redevelopment of Calgary’s Brewery District on ice (pun intended) for the time being, I am glad there is no hint of creating a power centre development like Edmonton’s Brewery District. 

Patience and strategic development is M2i Development Corporation’s mantra when it comes to developing this historic gem.  Fortunate for Calgary.  

This building is slated to be phase 1 of the site's redevelopment when the time is right. 

The Calgary Brewery site is well treed, which is usual for an industrial site and is both a challenge and an opportunity. 

 Eroding sandstone foundations are a huge problem at the Calgary Brewery & Malting site. 

Eroding sandstone foundations are a huge problem at the Calgary Brewery & Malting site. 

Last Word

They say, “Good things come to s/he who waits!” I sure hope that is the case with the Calgary Brewery & Malting site.  

And, I anxiously await seeing East Village’s City Market and the 3rd & Fifth retail complex.

Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's on November 26th, 2016 titled "Brewery Controversy: Redevelopment hit and misses. 

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Calgary vs Austin / 17th Ave vs South Congress

Great cities have signature streets that capture the imagination of tourists from around the world.  Austin's signature street is South Congress in Calgary it is still up for grabs. This blog compares Calgary's 17th Avenue with Austin's South Congress as a tourist attraction. 

 

Calgary's 17th Avenue 10 blocks south of downtown is a quirky mix of restaurants, cafes and shops. 

To some, the 17th Ave SW shopping and dining corridor (2nd to 14th St. SW) is still Uptown 17, while to others it is the Red Mile and yet others (specifically the 17th Avenue BRZ), it is RED (Retail Entertainment District).  For many Calgarians, the heyday of 17th Avenue was during the 2004 Calgary Flames Stanley Cup playoff run when tens of thousands of Calgarians took over the street after every game.  The impromptu street festivals captured national and international media attention, creating an image of Calgary as a fun city. 

Austin's South Congress Avenue looking north to downtown is a major highway. 

But after the Flames lost in the Stanley Cup finals, 17th Avenue has never really been able to capitalize on the opportunity of becoming one of the great urban streets of  North America. Melrose Sports Bar, the epicenter of the Red Mile, closed in January 2014 after 23 years of operation.  It has recently opened with much fanfare as Trolley 5 Restaurant & Brewery. 

Today, 17th Avenue struggles with its branding.  Is it a restaurant row? Absolutely. It is home to Pigeon Hole, #1 in enRoute Magazine’s Canada’s Best New Restaurants (2015) and Model Milk #2 (2012). It has also become a very popular destination for pizza lovers with restaurants like Una and Cibo.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has a vibrant cafe culture. 

Is it a shopping street? Indeed. Some long-standing destination retailers include Rubiayat, gravitypope (love the new space), Reid’s Stationary and Purr, as well as two of Calgary’s best optical boutiques - Eye Candy and Brass Monocle.   Newer additions include West Elm, Modern Duke, Structube, Steelng Home and Kit and Ace.

17th Avenue's gravitypope shop is dazzling. 

Both 17th Ave and South Congress have fun candy stores....this is 17th Ave's!

Both streets have quirky retail shops...this is one of the Rubiayat's many display cabinets with unique curiosities, home decor and collectables. 

Entertainment a key element for tourists

Is it an entertainment district? In my opinion, a resounding, “No!”  There are no cinemas, no theatres and no performing arts centres. The only live music venue of any renown is the Ship & Anchor Pub.  

When I think of “entertainment,” I think of more than shopping, drinking and dining, I also think of sidewalks full of people, buskers, lots of street vendors and food trucks. This is exactly what we experienced along South Congress Avenue in Austin earlier this year with its Stampede-like atmosphere on weekends as well as Thursday and Friday evenings, despite there being nothing special happening.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has vibrant patio culture. 

Physically, South Congress Ave and 17th Ave are very similar. Both area about a 10-minute walk from downtown. Both are a mix of retail and restaurants about 10 blocks long with lots of patios. However, this is where the similarities end.

Shortly after I got back from Austin, I made a point of visiting 17th Avenue on a nice spring Saturday to check out the action. Yes, there were people on the sidewalk but it was hardly the lively impromptu street festival atmosphere experienced on South Congress.

South Congress Avenue's sidewalks on Saturday afternoon have a festival-like atmosphere.

South Congress has numerous outdoor live music spots that open out to the sidewalk. 

South Congress' corners are animated on Saturday afternoon. On the opposite corner is a lively food truck hub. 

We loved this busker on South Congress who would create a poem on the spot based on the subject of your choice.  We had him create a poem about thrifting...we loved it. 

17th Avenue's Tomkins Park on Saturday afternoon is too often devoid of any vitality. 

Creating Vitality

Firstly, there is a greater sense of spontaneity about South Congress, with buskers performing day and night.  What would be surface parking lots in Calgary were Food Truck lots in Austin. There is even an artisan market on a parking lot one night a week. And the patios are more animated, several offering live outdoor music.  

Speaking of music, the biggest difference between the two streets is that South Congress has several live music venues (indoor and outdoor) that add an additional element of entertainment. Live music is everywhere in Austin, including the airport lobby. Branding the city as the “Live Music Capital of the World” is very appropriate.

The Continental Club one of Austin's iconic live music venues is located on South Congress. 

A third difference is there are few financial institutions on South Congress, while 17th Avenue seems to have one on every corner.  Banks on corners are urban vitality killers – they do nothing to add to the street vitality. I realize they are prepared to pay the high rent for the corner visibility so landlords are quick to lease to them. Perhaps we need a bylaw that prevents (or limits) banks from leasing corners on pedestrian-oriented streets as part of Calgary’s new Main Streets program.  

Too many of 17th Avenue's corners are taken up by financial institutions which create no sidewalk vitality.

ATB Financial, 17th  Ave Calgary

Who needs density?

Something else struck me as unusual on South Congress – there were no highrise condos anywhere nearby.  No mid-rise condos either for that matter.

We are lead to believe by urban planners that density is the key to creating 18/7 urban vitality, yet South Congress is thriving without any significant infill projects.

17th Avenue on the other hand has numerous highrise and midrise infill condos completed over the past few years with more to come. It has also seen numerous new and renovated retail spaces open up, attracting new retailers like West Elm and Best Buy.  It will be interesting to see what impact Embassy BOSA’s new 34-storey Royal tower (223 upscale condos) with an Urban Fare grocery store at street level and second floor Canadian Tire when it opens in 2018.  

FYI: I was hoping for a cinema complex as part of the Royal development.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has several highrise condo towers, while Austin's South Congress has none. 

Streetscape Improvements

What I also found interesting is that South Congress has no significant streetscape improvements or beautification initiatives.  There were no street banners, no fancy benches and few bike racks.  The sidewalks were adequate but nothing special and it certainly isn’t a tree-lined boulevard.  In fact, it is an old fashioned, much maligned six-lane highway.  Yet, at the same time, it remains a vibrant pedestrian street. 

Neither is there a park or plaza space on South Congress for people to gather or events to take place. It has nothing to match 17th Ave’s Tomkins Park and certainly nothing like 17th Ave’s high-tech public washroom installed in the park in 2008 that attracts over 40,000 “visitors” a year.

Calgary’s 17th Avenue is currently receiving a major upgrade - new sidewalks, buried power lines, new LED streetlights, more trees and crosswalks.  While these changes will enhance the 17th Avenue experience I am not convinced they will add significantly to its vitality.  What is really needed is more entertainment – music, theatre, comedy club and cinema venues. 

Last Word

Whatever you call it - Uptown 17, Red Mile or RED – Calgary’s 17th Avenue has many of the ingredients needed to become one of North America’s BoBo (bohemian and bourgeois) streets. It has the “rich and famous” living near by in Mount Royal and the “young and restless” living in the Beltline.  It has a good mix of retail and restaurants too. But what it lacks is the 18/7 street animation and entertainment venues to become a tourist attraction like South Congress in Austin.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "17th Avenue Needs An Entertainment Scene" on September 24, 2016

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Nations Fresh Foods: Where East Meets West!

While Whole Foods Market (often called Whole Paycheck) is the darling of most urbanists across North America (me included) I might have just found a better option. 

Back in 2013, my Mom spoke of a new grocery store opening up in Hamilton’s downtown Jackson Square shopping centre.  She checked it out for me, but wasn’t impressed when the customer service people didn’t speak English.  She was so disgusted she didn’t even remember the name of the store. Since then I have never heard anything about an innovative new flagship grocery store in Hamilton.

Hamilton has had a downtown Farmers’ Market since 1837 and is where I like to go whenever I am in town.  However, on my recent visit, my Mom suggested I also check it the now not so new Jackson Square grocery store, which is on the same mega block as the Famers’ Market, Central Library and First Ontario Arena.

WOW

I was immediately blown away by its size and vibe - even on a Monday morning there was a great mix of people shopping in the huge (55,000 square feet) store.

I had to look to find the name of the store as the entrance is from the middle of a ‘70s indoor mall, so there is no big box signage.  Eventually, I figured out it was Nations Fresh Foods.  I had never heard of it. Where have I been? Later I checked with some other urban retail colleagues and they hadn’t heard of it either. 

Turns out the parent company is Brampton based Ocean Fresh Foods Market and Nations is their upscale grocery store concept with two stores, with a third opening in Toronto later in 2016.  The motto for their stores is “Where East meets West” which means they offer food and produce as well as take-home cooked meals from around the world. While the stores have an European design the aisles are filled with products from around the world to serve southern Ontario market one of the most ethnically diverse places in the world.

Both Quality AND Affordability!

At the entrance was a lovely coffee station with pastries and gelato – I immediately thought my love of evening walks for gelato in Florence.  

The more I wandered, the more impressed I became with the selection. I loved the wall of teas, the seafood market full of live fish, the huge in store bakery, large sushi station and very fresh-looking fruits and vegetables.

I am told Nations carries lots of exotic foods like mungosteen, rambutan and dragonfruit; this is definitely not your average grocery store.

And the prices were good - three chocolate croissants for $1.99, artisan breads for $2.69.  Reviews of the store on the Internet were overwhelmingly positive - many saying they preferred it to Whole Foods.   Several people commented that Nations offers good quality at affordable prices; this almost never happens for other grocery stores.

While Nations’ by-line is “Where East Meets West,” I think I would use “Where old world meets new world.” 

Last Word

While I doubt Nations is looking at expanding to Western Canada anytime soon, a Nations’ grocery store would be a welcome addition in Calgary.  Perhaps as part a new development planned on the old Calgary Co-op site in the Beltline.  It would be perfect for the proposed mega development in Chinatown.  Eau Claire Market, University District or Currie would also be ideal locations.

I can’t help but think if Nations’ flagship store was in downtown Vancouver or Toronto, the urban planning world would be all over it as “god’s gift to urban villages,” but because it is in downtown Hamilton, it has been effectively ignored.

Oh, and after our visit, even my Mom was impressed enough to say maybe she would give Nations a second chance.

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ADAC Calgary: Gallery Hop!

What is ADAC you ask? NOT to be confused with AADAC (Alberta Alcohol & Drug Abuse Commission) it stands for Art Dealers Association of Canada.

This national self-governing, not-for-profit organization founded in 1966 gives accreditation to private art gallery owners who meet set standards for experience, knowledge, scholarship and professionalism in the same manner as other professionals have their respective accreditation associations.  

   Masters Gallery's  feature exhibition for Gallery Hop is "Algonquin" by Amy Dryer. 

Masters Gallery's feature exhibition for Gallery Hop is "Algonquin" by Amy Dryer. 

   Jarvis Hall Gallery's  feature exhibition for Gallery Hop is "FROM THE PAGE," artworks from the sketchbooks and notebooks of Bill Rodgers. 

Jarvis Hall Gallery's feature exhibition for Gallery Hop is "FROM THE PAGE," artworks from the sketchbooks and notebooks of Bill Rodgers. 

Lets all go to the Hop!

On May 28th from 11 am to 5 pm Calgary's eight ADAC-accredited galleries invite Calgarians to visit. Local artists and gallery owners will answer questions and share information on the artists that exhibit at the gallery, history of the gallery, what kind of art it specializes in and talk about the importance of supporting local professional artists.   In addition, each gallery is offering artist-led tours of the current exhibitions.  

Did you know?

Most ADAC galleries offer a “no-interest payment over time” option to help make your art purchase fit with your budget.  Some galleries will also offer to buy back your artwork years later, or you can trade in your piece for a credit on a different work, recognizing tastes often evolve or you might want a piece that better fits that special place in your new home. 

Owners will also be on hand to share information about the various services the gallery offers. Many people don’t realize many galleries offer trial periods where you can take the art home with you, live with it for a period of time and then return it if it doesn’t quite work for you or make arrangements to try something else. 

In a nutshell, ADAC galleries want to work with collectors –whether new or seasoned - to help them develop their appreciation for art and build an art collection unique for their tastes. 

Herringer Kiss Gallery offers two solo exhibitions for Gallery Hop. 

   
  
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     In the context of collecting significant historical Canadian artwork, Ian Loch will discuss some special historical works including pieces from the Loch family private collection - from Krieghoff to Kurelek at  Loch Gallery . 

In the context of collecting significant historical Canadian artwork, Ian Loch will discuss some special historical works including pieces from the Loch family private collection - from Krieghoff to Kurelek at Loch Gallery

   Trepanier Baer Gallery's  feature exhibition is Marcel Barbeau: Amour champagne et autre choses. 

Trepanier Baer Gallery's feature exhibition is Marcel Barbeau: Amour champagne et autre choses. 

Wallace Gallery will feature "Spring Group Show II, 2016" including: David Alexander, William Duma, Peter Krausz, Gregory Hardy, Linda Nardelli, Harold Barling Town, David Newkirk, Erika Olson, and more.  Gregory Hardy's "Slew by the house" is just one of the paintings that will be featured in the exhibition.  

Facing Reality!

In the late 80s, I used to give a talk to Alberta College of Art and Design students titled “Facing Reality!” I spoke of the need for them to produce and sell 100 artworks (two per week) at $1,000 each per year to make about $30,000 per annum salary.

How could that be? Simple. If an artist sells $100,000 worth of art a year, they will share 50% of that with the gallery in commissions, so they are down to $50,000. And out of that $50,000 they have to pay cost of materials and studio rental, making them lucky if they clear $30,000.  I then asked them, “how many of your parents, family or friends of their parents had ever spent $1,000 on a work of art?”  The silence was deafening. It was a rude awakening.

From a gallery perspective, they to have to sell a lot of art every month of the year at $1,000/artwork to pay for salaries, rent, operating, framing and marketing costs. So when you see a price tag of $1,000+ in an ADAC gallery, don’t be shocked. This is real art by professionals - not some mass-produced artworks from a factory

The art has been produced by a professional artists, who have spent years developing their techniques and imagery, who have probably thrown away more artworks than they have exhibited and who get only one or two exhibitions a year if they lucky.  It is a struggle to make a living as a visual artist given limited selling opportunities and the need to sell your work for thousands not hundreds of dollars.

Joshua Jensen-Nagle and Newzones Gallery present "Endless Summer" a culmination of 12 years of working with the beach as a subject, inspiration by his childhood summers for Gallery Hop visitors.  Image: Joshua Jensen-Nagle: “An Expression”, 2015 ed./7, Photo Face Mounted to Plexi, 43”x88”

If you like it buy it!

I also use to say, “Too often people who wouldn’t think twice about spending $30,000 on a car that depreciates by $15,000 in 5 years, wouldn’t even consider investing $3,000 on an artwork. Or, many Calgarians who willingly spend $1,000+ on a new bike every few years or a weekend getaway every year, wouldn’t dream of spending $1,000 on an artwork they might have for the rest of their lives.” People don’t think twice about spending $2,000+ on a sofa or a new computer that they will keep for maybe 5 years or less.

Back in the ‘80s, when I was the Director/Curator at the Muttart Art Gallery (now Contemporary Calgary), I often advised people to set aside $1,000+ per year to buy one major artwork a year.  In so doing, after ten years, one would have a very nice art collection that reflects personal tastes, and can be enjoyed every day for the rest of your life.  

Too often people say, “I need to save up before I can buy art.” To which I would respond, if you see something you like, ask the gallery if they will talk instalment payments so you can enjoy the art while you pay it off (we do that with cars all the time).

   
  
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   The  Paul Kuhn Gallery  is pleased to present “crank that”, a group show of gallery artists, notably, Ashleigh Bartlett, Robin Deyo, John Eisler, Geoffrey Hunter and Mark Mullin.     The title of the exhibition borrows its’ name from a hip hop dance move primarily performed to hip hop music as part of hip culture. This exhibition is loosely associated with hip hop in its capacity to shock and inspire. The so called “free style’ of this art is a misnomer as both the dance and the paintings often are carefully developed in the studio by classically trained artists.     While both seem to work intuitively, there is a level of sophistication and refinement in their art.  Like hip hop, the paintings are part of a post modern genre defined by real time practice rather than any sense of a unified theory or movement. It is an art made in a time when there is no acknowledged period identity for contemporary art and no consensus on the role of the avant garde.

The Paul Kuhn Gallery is pleased to present “crank that”, a group show of gallery artists, notably, Ashleigh Bartlett, Robin Deyo, John Eisler, Geoffrey Hunter and Mark Mullin.

 The title of the exhibition borrows its’ name from a hip hop dance move primarily performed to hip hop music as part of hip culture. This exhibition is loosely associated with hip hop in its capacity to shock and inspire. The so called “free style’ of this art is a misnomer as both the dance and the paintings often are carefully developed in the studio by classically trained artists.

 While both seem to work intuitively, there is a level of sophistication and refinement in their art.  Like hip hop, the paintings are part of a post modern genre defined by real time practice rather than any sense of a unified theory or movement. It is an art made in a time when there is no acknowledged period identity for contemporary art and no consensus on the role of the avant garde.

True Confession

As an undergraduate at McMaster University in Hamilton, I used my one and only student loan to buy five limited edition prints from ADAC Galleries in Toronto and Hamilton (Toni Only, Gordon Smith, David Blackwood, Karl Appel and Pierre Alechinsky) all of which I still have today. Not only has each appreciated in value, but I have appreciated looking at them for over 40 years.

Last Word

And while talking art at Gallery Hop, enjoy a wine and art pairing by Metrovino at the galleries.  You can even stop by Metrovino (right on the hop behind NewZones and Paul Kuhn galleries) and pick up a bottle or two of your favourite grape art.

It doesn’t get much better than that! 

Lo-Burn: Austin's Vintage District

Mid-century flaneuring always makes me happy. I think it is the cheerful colours – bright oranges, baby blues, spring greens and sunshine yellows.

If you are into vintage and visiting Austin the Lo-Burn (Lower Burnet Road) district is a “must see.”

You can't miss Top Drawer Thrift with its huge floor lamp, lime green facade and drawers on the roof.  

Lo-Burn IBIZ District

We stumbled upon this up and coming district when we entered “thrift stores” on Google Maps and saw a cluster on Burnet Road (pronounced “Burn-it” by locals) from 49th N Street to North Loop Boulevard. Conveniently, it was in the car2go home area, so off we went.

Here you will find not only three thrift stores, but two mid-century furniture shops, an antique store and an outlet designer women’s clothing boutique, as well as local eatery favourites - Torchy’s Tacos and Tiny Pies. If you walk further south there are some other places that look interesting…but who has time to eat when there are treasures to be found.

Top Drawer Thrift (SW corner of Burnett and W 49th St)

Top Drawer Thrift was the best thrift store we found in Austin by a long shot.  While it isn’t the largest it had great quality and selection of vintage clothing, home accessories and art. The displays were fun and exotic. The staff were friendly and the prices were great.  The electronic section was the big surprise with unusual items from a huge pile of vintage radio tubes (Brenda couldn’t resist adding one to her collection) to old film projectors.  I got a framed kitschy artwork with a Cowboy face and Old Made cards background.

Vintage radio tubes at Top Drawer Thrift

Vintage electronics at Top Drawer Thrift

Vintage Fun

Uptown Modern (5111 Burnet Rd) is like walking into a mid-century furniture art museum.  The show room is spacious and the displays are grouped by colour.  If I was starting an art collection, this is where I would head.

Gypsies Antiques (5202 Burnet Rd) is a traditional antique store with many very interesting vignettes under glass domes.  And Vin Taj (52,000 Burnet Rd) has not only interesting furniture and home accessories, but some great paintings that we would have loved to take home.  Darn those airline baggage size restrictions!

Learn more about Austin’s mid-century modern scene

Uptown Modern has a wonderful collection of vintage furniture, home accessories and art. 

One of several glass dome pieces at Gypsies Antiques

Spring Frost Boutique (5101 Burnet Rd)

Though Spring Frost is not a vintage shop (it stocks designer clothing and shoes at deep discount prices), it is worth checking out. The staff were friendly and let me take all the photos I wanted. I love photographing women shoes – to me some are like works of miniature works of art.

Spring Frost shoe fun!

American League Alliance (4901 Burnet Rd)

Across the street from Top Drawer is a large American League Alliance thrift store, which is definitely worth stopping into. checking out. They had some great deals on cowboy boots when we were there. It is staffed by charming retired ladies who are very attentive to creating wonderful displays that give the store a vintage, grandmother-like atmosphere.

Savers (5222 Burnet RD)

Savers is Austin’s equivalent of Value Village and is just three blocks north of the Top Drawer.

American League has everything including the piano. 

Refreshments

I am told Torchy’s Tacos (5119 Burnet Rd), an icon in Austin, started with a single food cart. It now has several stores across the city.  The Burnet Road eatery’s patio is good place to recharge your batteries. 

Tiny Pies (5035 Burnet Road) - Zagat says, “The pies are just like mom used to make, only much much smaller. The petite offerings are modern twists on family recipes and include everything from breakfast pies to strawberry-basil pies, plus quiche, pie pops and mason-jar desserts.”  We loved the pecan pies after our Torchy’s tacos.

There is also a fun food truck hub village across the street from Tiny Pies. A bit hidden in the parking lot at the back, but it is worth a look with its own playground and a barbershop up front. How cool is that?

Pinthouse Pizza, Apothecary Café and Wine Bar, Pinthouse Pizza and Phoenicia Bakery and Deli south of W 49th Street all looked interesting.

Torchy's Tacos hit the spot!

Lo-Burn's food cart lot includes several food carts, a barber shop and playground. Very Cool!

IBIZ 101

Of Austin’s eight IBIZ (Independent Business Improvement Zones) Lo-Burn was the most interesting.

The criteria for an IBIZ district include:

  • At least 75% locally owned businesses (currently, all districts host 95% to 100% locally owned businesses)
  • Have 20 to 100 businesses (current districts have 23 to 90 businesses)
  • No more than one mile in walkable distance (current districts range from .4 to 1 mile)

Top Drawer Thrift fashions!

Last Word

Don’t expect a lot of streetscape improvements - banners, hanging flower baskets or street furniture – along Austin’s IBIZs.  And while the distances are walkable, the sidewalks may not be in the greatest shape (nor might there always be one) and streets are more vehicle-oriented than pedestrian-friendly.

But for the urban wanderer, these are interesting places to explore. We went to Lo-Burn twice!

Bonus: We were lucky enough to have the same car2go we’d parked 3 hours ago, still parked in the same spot we left it. 

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Calgary: Tea Trader & Lapsang Souchong

I can’t remember when I first discovered Lapsang Souchong tea, but probably at university (a lot of experimenting happened then), but I have continued to enjoy its smoky (or as someone likes to say “smelly socks”) essence ever since.  Over the years, I have purchased my tea from a variety of suppliers, but for the past few years my favourite supplier, hands down, has been Tea Trader in Inglewood. 

 Tea Trader's entrance on 9th Ave SE, aka Atlantic Avenue, or Inglewood's Main Street. 

Tea Trader's entrance on 9th Ave SE, aka Atlantic Avenue, or Inglewood's Main Street. 

I love that the entrance is just a door on Atlantic Avenue which, upon entering, immediately leads you up a steep narrow stairway to the warehouse-like store.

Authenticity

When you arrive, you are immediately immersed in a world of tea – from the wall of tea tins to the burlap bags of tea piled up on the floor.  It feels authentic and like an oasis at the same time.  And the soft-spoken Kate, the store manager who always seems to be there when I go echoes the sense of tranquillity. 

Each time I go to get my little bag of Lapsang Souchong tea, I also get a little more of Tea Trader’s backstory. However on my most recent visit I asked Kate about other teas that I might like, and without hesitation and like an octopus, she enthusiastically started grabbing tins, while telling me about each of them, and inviting me to smell them. It was then that I realized Kate and my little tea shop was a pretty special Calgary business.

Kate loves to talk about the art and science of teas.

Backstory

Tea Trader, is owned by Ted and Colleen Jones, is located above Robinson’s Camera on 9th Avenue SE (formerly Atlantic Avenue) and has been in business since 1994 (It was the first tea only shop in Calgary).   I only found out recently that its current location is its fourth in Inglewood. It started directly across the street sharing space with one of the many, at the time, antique stores, then it moved two shops west sharing with a craft store, then for a few years it was east of the Blackfoot Truck stop until it settled in its present location for the last eight years.

Its roots lie in Ted’s working in London in the late ‘80s amongst a wide group of commodity traders coal, oil, and notably tea and coffee. Wanting his own business and liking the combination of tea, its customers and the buying/selling environment were key factors in the creation of Tea Trader.

The office/warehouse. 

Calgary Perfect

Ted a Brit, met Colleen from Ontario, while both were working in London and after three years in Cape Town, South Africa, they decided in 1990 that they wanted to live in the Western Canada. Even though they liked Vancouver, housing was too expensive even then. Calgary's lower cost of living, proximity to mountains and the fact they fell in love with Inglewood on their first visit to Cowtown made it a perfect place to start their new life and business.  

Over the years, Tea Trader has shipped tea to customers in Portugal, Britain, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Germany and Mexico, as well as all over North America. About 30% of their business is mail order and 60% is in-store.  Though, they couldn’t give me an exact volume of sales in pounds or kilograms, Kate did confirm “We sell tons of tea and at 3 grams a cup, that is a lot of tea!”

  There is a small collection of vintage tea cups and pots. 

There is a small collection of vintage tea cups and pots. 

Alberta Clipper Tea

At any given time, they have 100 to 160 teas in stock. Because tea is a seasonal commodity, they have to buy enough tea for the whole year when it becomes available; otherwise they miss the boat.  The Jones buy from an assortment of suppliers in India, China, Sri Lanka and Taiwan – some are actual tea garden growers while others are tea agents for growers. 

The Jones create many of their own tea blends - customers’ favourites being Bow River Breakfast (a blend of Assam BOP and Darjeeling first flush black teas) and Alberta Clipper (a blend of Darjeeling, Assam and Yunnan second flush black teas).  blends. Eight Bells is one of their most popular teas - an Earl Grey combining vanilla and passion fruit petals.

Tea Trader was the first store in Calgary to offer non-tea infusions like rooibos, which brought a whole new clientele of South Africans to the shop. Today, hundreds of regulars for whom tea is part of their everyday life, come in like clockwork to buy  at Tea Trader. 

The wall of teas is impressive. 

Funny Stories

Ted was once stopped at Heathrow Airport in London when his bag had 3kg of tea in it.  The security guard, by the look on his face, thought he had the bust of a lifetime, though Ted said it was just tea.  He walked to his supervisor standing nearby and Ted watched patiently as he explained what he had found. The supervisor listened for a few minutes, looked over at Ted and without coming over to the table, waved Ted through.

Perhaps the strangest request they have had was an inquiry for tea to make a special paint for industrial use. The Jones put the prospective customer in touch with Twinings in South Carolina knowing they stocked large quantities of broken tea leaves, which would do the job, and have the specific skills for such a request.

  There are lots of fun subliminal messages. 

There are lots of fun subliminal messages. 

Good Tea

Cooking & Baking

Kate informed me tea can be used in cooking and baking. For example, Matcha, a powdered green tea can be added to shortbread, macaroons and even ice cream. Adding my favourite Lapsang Souchong can impart its smoky flavour when roasting meats or fish.

Japanese green teas can be brewed and used to add a full, rich flavour to soup broth. Tea can also be fermented using a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) to produce a drink called Kombucha.

Tea Trader offers a good selection of accessories.

Last Word

On my last visit, Kate informed me Lapsang Souchong is a pine-smoked variety of china black tea - the smoky flavour is not inherent to the tea leaf but rather the result of the smoke drying process. The story goes, the tea was created during the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912) when the passage of armies delayed the annual drying of the tea leaves in the Wuyi Mountain in southeast China. Eager to satisfy demand, tea producers sped up the drying process by having their workers dry the tea leaves over fires made from local pine trees. It was Winston Churchill’s favourite tea; I heard he would also add a few drops of Lapsang Souchong tea to his scotch.

She also sent me home with a sample of a Keemun Mao Feng that she thought I might like (free taster bags, gotta like that). She was right!

Info:

  • Location: 1228A - 9th Avenue SE, 1-888-676-2939 / 403-264-0728
  • Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm / Sunday, noon to 4 pm MST.
  • Website: teatrader.com
  • Email: shop@teatrader.com

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