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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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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Austin: Kid in a candy store fun!

Every city should have a “must see” candy store!  Until this week my favourite was in downtown Helena, Montana, but now it just might be The Big Top Candy Shop on South Congress in Austin, Texas. 

Everyone, young and old will love its colourful candy/circus theme. Here are some postcard photos of The Big Top Candy Shop....love to hear what you think!

PS. Be sure to scroll to the bottom as there are some surprise candies for adults near the end.

Who can resist a candy shop with the name The Big Top? Not the Everyday Tourist. 

Sit down and enjoy the show.

The store is jam-packed with artefacts and fun displays. It is like a museum.

Doesn't every parent want to have a Gummi Boy!

I hope I never have to meet the Rubber Skin Girl. Yikes!

Love the sense of humour. Laughter is the best medicine. 

Who is up for a double bacon chocolate bar? 

And for dessert how about Fox's Candied Bacon.

Even the ice cream cones are special...this one has a gummi on top.

I don't think these people are ever leaving.

Thrifting Fun in Victoria B.C.

One of our favourite things to do when visiting a new city is to check out the thrift stores.  We are regularly rewarded with discovering new and upcoming neighbourhoods as thrift stores are often located in old grocery or larger retail stores in strip malls in communities on the edge of the city centre that are being repopulated by hippies, hipsters, yuppies and artists i.e. those who love thrifting.

Probably our most surprising location for a thrift store was in Hong Kong - don’t remember the name of the street, but we were barely out of our hotel and on the street to beginning flaneuring and there was a Salvation Army beaconing us in. 

However, the best city for thrifting in our experience has to be Victoria, B.C., Canada.  Brenda says it is because the city is a mecca for older people who are downsizing and university students who are always buying things and then moving away. We especially love the great artworks we find and think it is due to those who are downsizing, as well as art students at the University of Victoria who can keep everything that they create and retirees who take up art as a hobby in their later years.

Abstraction by R. Sylvester was purchased at Super Chance, nicely framed and matted. (29" x 20" framed) $90.00  

Abstraction by R. Sylvester was purchased at Super Chance, nicely framed and matted. (29" x 20" framed) $90.00  

We love thrifting in Victoria because there are so many stores within walking or short bus ride of downtown.  We have also noted over the years the quality and presentation of goods is higher in Victoria than in other cities we have visited.  Many of the thrift stores are more like boutiques than a second hand store, especially the WIN store (no relation to WINS in Calgary) in Cook Village. 

The mother lode of thrift stores in Canada and perhaps North America has to be the Value Village in Victoria’s Chinatown.  It is a huge store (not sure if it is the biggest Value Village in the chain but it is the biggest and busiest we have experienced) that is full of clothing, housewares, books, records and great art. It is always busy and thus the product moves fast so we often will visit a couple of times if we are in town for a week or so. 

Value Village, the motherlode of thrift stores, in Victoria, BC

Art Collecting Fun

One of our goals when visiting a new city is to find a new artwork for our collection of thrift store art that now numbers 23 pieces.  I am not sure but I think this may have started many years ago in Victoria - golf fish canvas from Value Village. On our last visit in the spring of 2015 the Value Village had a least a dozen abstract expressionism work both large and small for under $100.  I was tempted to buy a large 40” by 30” piece but Brenda talked me out of it and so I finally settled on a small 10” by 8”piece.  

Usually our first stop in Victoria is to Value Village to check out the art, followed by the Super Chance consignment store (with thrift store prices) in St. James Village, which is a must visit for thrifters as it always has a good selection of art.  We are rarely disappointed.  In one case I bought an artwork by Joe Plaskett, titled “Hakim Paris” in one thrift store and then commissioned Super Chance to sell it for me. My first quick flip!

Untitled, Kimball, 1962, purchased at Kilshaw's Auctioneers for $10, (29" x 25" framed canvas)

Thrill of the Hunt

The fun thing about thrifting is the thrill of the hunt - you don’t even know what you are hunting for until you see it.   Brenda’s tastes are much more eclectic than mine, she is could spend hours searching the back of every shelf and the bottom of every bin for that special treasure that some other picker has missed. 

Untitled, unknown artist, purchased at Super Chance $60 (framed, 20" x 14")

 

 

Brenda’s finds this last Victoria trip were:

 

  • A 1950s dime holder made by the B&R (no relation) Manufacturing Co. of New York bought at WIN Resale Shop for $1.95
  • A charming 1937 cardboard“learn to type” fingering diagram that you prop up in front of a typewriter keyboard, that is very fun.  $2
  • Children’s Metal Shoe Size Measurer for $4
  • Set of 3 vintage nesting teak snack bowls circa 1940s for $3
  • Framed unused Tuck’s Postcard (printed in England) for $.99 Vintage, women’s off-white, long Max Mayers gloves for $3
  • Small, brand new, yellow Moleskin notebook $.99
  • Some of the things she will keep for a while and add to her various vignettes in her office, others she will resell at her annual vintage garage sale.

List of Victoria Thrift stores:

Downtown

  • Beacon Community Thrift Shop, 715, Pandora Ave.
  • Salvation Army Thrift Store, 525, Johnson St.
  • Value Village, 1810 Store St.
  • Women In Need, 785 Pandora Ave.
  • St. Vincent de Paul, 833 Yates Ave

On the edge of Downtown

  • Bible 4 Missions, 2520 Government Street
  • Women In Need, 1803 Cook St.
  • Super Chance, 435, Simcoe Street,
  • Oak Bay United Church, 1355 Mitchell St

Bus Ride Away

  • Salvation Army, 3934 Quadra
  • Salvation Army, 1551 Cedar Hill Cross Road
  • Pickers 3948 Quadra
  • Beacon2723 Quadra

Auction Houses

  • Kilshaw's Auctioneers, 115 Fort Street
  • LUNDS Auctioneer, 926 Fort Street 
Untitled, unknown artists, Value Village find spring 2015 $15 (10" x 8")

Untitled, unknown artists, Value Village find spring 2015 $15 (10" x 8")

Last Word

Thrifting is not only a fun way to find a unique souvenir of your visit to any city, but also a great way to find some hidden gem authentic communities to explore and not just the tarted up touristy places and spaces. 

We have even found an upscale thrifty hotel (yes, there is such a thing).  The Red Lion Hotel Victoria at 3366 Douglas St. is well located not only for thrifting, but for cycling as the Galloping Goose Trail is at the back door and shopping (Uptown and Mayfair shopping malls are just a few blocks away).

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