Halifax’s Quinpool Road is a very cool place to flaneur. Why? Because of its fun mix of old and new shops and buildings. No other street in Canada that I have visited has so many merchants with a 25+ year history on the same street.
Old & New
At first glance, many might dismiss the street as being old and tired, especially if you are just driving by. But if you get out of your car, or off the bus and walk along the sidewalk, you will begin to realize there is more to Quinpool Road than meets the eye.
I think Jane Jacobs (an urban writer and activist who championed new, community-based approaches to planning from 1960 until her death in 2006), approve of how Quinpool Road is evolving with a nice mix of the old and the new.
Freeman’s Little New York restaurant and bar has been on Quinpool since 1956. Open 24 hours, it remains a popular spot for those who want a late night pizza – to stay or go! A popular happy hour spot too, it is a great place to mix with locals.
Quinpool Road is home to perhaps Canada’s best shoe repair shop. I am not kidding. Quinpool Shoe Repair has been operating in the same location since 1958. I was immediately intrigued by the its blade sign that not only includes a shoe, but a skate too.
Yes, inside sits an old skate sharpening machine that brought back memories of when I was a kid who used to drop off my skates at a house on the way to elementary school where an old guy (everyone is old when you are 7 or 8) sharpened them on a similar machine in his basement. I would pick them up on the way home.
Cost….30 cents I think! But I digress.
Quinpool Shoe Repair often will do repairs while you wait. While we were there, a lady brought in her shoes for a simple repair and was immediately asked, “Do you want to wait for them?”
While the classic shoe repair shop aroma of leather and polish is in the air, this is no little “hole in the wall” shop. Large, bright, clean and very well organized, including a six-foot long wall of shoe laces – there’s an immediate sense of pride of ownership and craftmanship when you walk in.
Quinpool’s Armore Tea Room, has been a Halifax landmark since 1958. Its name harkens back to its early days. Today, it is best described as old fashioned diner serving all day breakfast (including homemade meatloaf, liver and onions) and great milkshakes. Open from 5 am to 8 pm daily, it remains old school with its “cash only” policy.
Across the street from Armore is Canada’s first donair shop, “King of Donair” which opened there in 1973. In 2015, Halifax Regional Council proclaimed the donair the official food of Halifax.
When I went in and said I was from Calgary, it was quickly pointed out that real donairs have only onions, tomatoes and a sweet and garlicky donair sauce, “none of that lettuce, pickles or cheese junk they add in Western Canada.” You could tell the King is proud to have developed the original recipe.
In addition to multiple locations in Halifax, King of Donair has expanded elsewhere in Eastern Canada, as well Western Canada - including Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie.
Backstory: Original owner, Peter Gamoulakos created the original 'doner' (what he called it briefly) with lamb topped with tzatziki. But Haligonians did not take to it. So Gamoulakos being an astute businessman, changed the protein to beef, developed the sweet garlicky sauce (using Carnation evaporated milk no less), changed the name to “donair” and a legend was born. He sold the store many years later and King of Donair has changed hands a couple of times since. Despite a few people trying to take credit for the donair, it remains Gamoulakos' legacy.
Further up the “Road” is Aerobic First in what at first glance looks like an old, rather non-descript house (because that is what it is). However, curiosity made me walk in to discover a place packed with shoes, skis, boots and other sports wear equipment. Their claim to fame - “our staff are among the best shoe and boot fitters in Canada” according to their website and I believe them. I tried a few pairs on, but resisted as I really don’t need anymore flaneuring shoes. The staff were very friendly and let me browse without feeling awkward. Eventually I struck up a conversation with one of the staff, who turned out to be the owner, who told me they have been in business on Quinpool since 1980.
I really wish I needed new flaneuring shoes.
Cool New Merchants
Intermingled with the old timers on Quinpool are the “new kids on the road,” the cool new merchants.
“Sarah and Tom,” a Korean pop culture store recently opened on Quinpool, a sure sign that young people are moving in. At first, I mistook it for a cool kid toy store. It all started when Sarah Milberry from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia went to Korea to teach English, met her husband Tom Yun (aka Tom) and together they decided to bring a bit of Korean retail culture to Canada – they have stores in Toronto and now Halifax. I love today’s global world these days and how it leads to creating cool streets where a Korean toy store meets a skateboard shop.
As just across the street from Sarah and Tom sits another new kid on the road, Pro Skate home of Halifax’s skateboarding community. But rather than the typical bohemian looking skater shop, Pro Skate has a friendly upscale atmosphere that even includes a micro café at the front with a few seats looking out onto the street. Very cool.
Halifax’s popular Morris East Restaurant + Wine Bar recently opened its third location in Quinpool Road’s The Keep, a mid-rise condo complex. While the restaurant has a full menu, whenever we walked by, it seemed more like a busy pizza parlour where the cool people hang out. Every street needs a couple of good pizza places. In fact, there probably should be a “Pizza Index” to measure street vitality i.e. the more pizza places, the more vitality.
Then there is the new home décor store, Zephyr Rug & Home that offers amazing rugs as well as contemporary Canadian, American and Italian furniture. With all the area’s new condos projects (recently opened, under construction and planned) in Halifax’s City Centre, Zephyr could be the catalyst for Quinpool to become a design district. After all, Secord Gallery, one of the longest established art galleries and framing shops in Atlantic Canada dating back to 1979 is also on Quinpool.
Quinpool has an amazing array of ethnic restaurants and grocery stores – Korean, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Lebanese and Chinese. There is also a healthy independent café culture along the road with great names like Atomic Café, Heartwood Bakery and Café, Lucky Penny Coffee Co., Dilly Dally Coffee Café and Other Bean. And yes, a Starbucks and a Tim Horton’s too.
Sweet Hereafter Cheesecakery’s décor is as rich and yummy as its cheesecakes (see photo). Open noon to 10 pm, it is cool a spot for a sweet afternoon delight or a nightcap. They offer a different selection of cheesecakes that very everyday. My choices when I was there were: maple pumpkin, autumn apple, apple pecan and banana bread. My pick - maple pumpkin – decadent and I was not disappointed!
Quinpool Road is unique in that while it is mostly small “mom and pop” shops, one block is dominated by large format stores - Canadian Tire, Atlantic Superstore and Nova Scotia Liquor Store. Fortunately, the stores have street entrances with all the surface parking in the back, offering the best of both worlds - walkable at the front, drivable at the back. I wish more developers and big box stores would do this as it makes for a much better streetscape. That being said, the facades of all three stores are due for an update - it could become a very funky block.
The Atlantica Hotel Halifax, a 230-room four star hotel located at the east end of Quinpool Road adds another dimension to the mix. Every good street needs a hotel or two.
While Quinpool Road is currently surrounded mostly by modest homes, this is going to change. Like most urban streets in vibrant cities across North America, Quinpool is on the cusp of a mega-makeover.
Recently completed is The Keep, an 8-floor, 74 unit residential project with ground floor retail - Starbucks, upscale outdoor retailer, (The Trail Shop which moved from its original home on Quinpool that it had occupied since 1968) and Morris Eats. (FYI: A “keep” is the innermost and strongest structure or central tower of a castle. The name is a “metaphor for the strength of the building and its central location in Halifax” says The Keep’s website.)
After 80 years, the art deco Oxford theatre closed in 2017 and was sold to a developer - a sure sign that change is in the wind for Quinpool Road.
Other projects in the planning stages include the controversial The Willow Tree, a 25-floor residential building with street retail and the Drexel, an 8-floor mixed-use development. At Quinpool and Robie, plans are currently being finalized for an 18-floor condo tower on the site of the former Cruikshank’s Funeral Home, as well as an 11 and 22-floor residential tower next to it.
The addition of these new mixed-use condos projects should benefit existing merchants as well as add new retailers, restauranteurs and entrepreneurs to the mix of existing shops.
In 1960, Jane Jacobs, in her “The Death And Life of Great American Cities,” wrote the ideal mix for street vitality was to have “one third of the buildings new, one third old and one third middle aged.”
While I realize streets must evolve, I hope it does so gradually so it doesn’t lose the charm of its older homes and buildings too quickly. The cool mix of old and new, the chic and the shabby chic is an aesthetic worth keeping.