By MAGGIE M, Editor and Host of “Where in the wedge is Maggie M?”
Many cities around the world have within them a street of renown. Some names roll off travelers’ lips frequently, “Fifth Avenue” (NYC), “Via Monte Napoleone” (Milan). Their draw could be shopping, historic meaning or they could be the heart and soul of the city as would be, “Bourbon Street” (New Orleans). What these magnetic streets are to these cities, Russell Street is also to Smiths Falls. Clearly, Russell Street, does not rank in this list; but, it is however analogous to this story. So what makes it so special?
Russell street is the shopping destination most likely to be paraded to visitors of Smiths Falls in 2017. Its retailers are exceptional, specialized and often, a barrel of laughs. There is a consensus that Russell Street is “special”.
Right now, some retailers are investing in beautification, others are building feverishly to move in this Spring. There is new growth and voices are bristling with anticipation.
On the West end, I discovered the Davidson Courtyard replete with stone hedging and paved with beautiful interlocking brick. New owners, Lyne and Scott Taylor, have purchased the Courtyard; both had hammer and saw in-hand when I visited. They are upgrading the venue for new tenants, a licensed, ‘chi-chi’ cafe opening this April (it’s all very ‘hush-hush’).
Among the Courtyard shops, The Gilded Monarch, struck me for its aesthetics and creativity. This shop reaches beyond its walls; it draws chalk paint creators from Ottawa to Kingston and on-line. The Founder, a statuesque, young woman, Vanessa MacLellan, reached out as I admired the treasures in the vestibule. My curiosity was peaked.
I trust MacLellan is accustomed to “oohs” and “aahs” from those who enter the shop for the first time. I was no exception. Every piece in the store sings–even books are presented as sculptures. Her skills have evolved in a creative capacity in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa for decades. Smiths Fallians are now the beneficiaries of her trained eyes and hands.
Also in the Courtyard, The Loft Artisan Consignment Shop features over one-hundred handmade works from local artists and a few foreign artists. The gift shop is a retirement project by Founder, Cheryl Gulseth, a Curator with a smart sense. I was particularly fond of woven jute rugs and stained glass mosaics on mirrored tile.
Among the shelves, I discovered the works of Chris Gainsbourg, a tole painter. This European folk art is applied to tin, wood and various objects using paints and sealants that are long-lasting. Mundane objects come to life. Gulseth is now excitedly awaiting delivery of stained glass lanterns and windows.
On leaving the Courtyard, it’s impossible to miss Apollo Computers. The storefront does not bear witness to the frenetic, busy pace inside. Apollo is a great story fermenting in this writer’s mind.
Cross over Beckwith to the East side of Russell and you will arrive at Modern Thymes, a well-established natural health and bulk foods store, co-owned and operated by an affable couple, Sharon and Dave Brown. The store is spacious and well inventoried with organic and bulk foods, and natural healing supplements. I overheard a customer ask, “Do you have quinoa flakes?”. Yup, they were well stocked.
The most requested product is Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar “with mother.” This is a sign locals are savvy as this product is top-rated for health. It raises PH, treats acid reflux, fights yeast, provides vital nutrients; yet, it is one of the lowest cost items in the kitchen (or the medicine cabinet.)
Take a few paces to the restaurant next door, always bursting with life–it can seat three-hundred. Chef Ram Mogandas opened Chuckles Jack in 2016.
Chef Ram formerly operated another restaurant in Smiths Falls; but, since moving to Russell Street in a wholly new concept, business is unrelenting. (He references Smiths Falls as a “booming” town.)
“It’s fusion,” explains Chef Ram, “Western to Indian.” The restaurant is renown for its butter chicken, a creamy chicken dish which bursts with unique Indian flavors served on a bed of rice.
The entire staff is polished and delightful. Chef Ram himself is always soft-spoken and generous with smiles. (I find this a common trait among Sri Lankans.)
Cross the street and you will find top-rated retailers: a DIY wine-making shop, a candy shop that takes boomers down ‘memory lane’, a top-rated consignment fashion store and a Hallmark greeting card shop. Rumors are a ‘fish and chips’ restaurant is soon to manifest. We cannot cover them all in one story.
Jaunting westward back toward Beckwith you enter the exclusive world of knitters at Knit Knackers Yarn Warehouse. The shop is owned by Sarita Sastre and managed by Paulette Barkley; but, it is more than a yarn shop.
Near the rear, a large table hosts many women and occasionally, a few men, who banter and knit without missing a stitch. “The US has run out of pink yarn,” they announced to this writer. The guffaws ensued. (Pink tuques as political statements are the rage.)
Red and white are popular colours during Canada 150. Tuques of another kind are surely in the offing!
Never a dull moment.
Now step next door to HD OFFICE SUPPLIES for a really fun time. Owners, Holly Ault and Dave Murphy are connoisseurs of the office domain. They dub themselves the, “little-big office store.”
HD has moved beyond just retailing; they are making their own, branded glue, LiquiSilk. It has a long list of virtues; but, I am on good report it washes off easily. (So your hand won’t be stuck to your forehead when you slap it, so to speak.)
Anyone who needs a, “pick-me-up,” can visit HD for what this writer deems may be the most fun you can have while buying printer ink or copy paper.
Or go next door for a caffeine fix.
Coffee Culture Cafe & Eatery is the loveliest building in the core. The company which runs approximately twenty-four outlets, spared no expense in appointing the cafe inside and outside.
The cafe serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their soups are a favorite, always complex and delicious. The scones are fresh and bursting with flavor. Their Barristas whip-up the tallest orders, “large-skinny-vanilla-latte-half-sweet-half-caff,” on a regular basis.
The seating in “other chains” will send you to the Chiropractor; but, this cafe is comfortable with all combinations of seating for two, four or six. You can sink into one of four plump leather chairs–this writer enjoyed eating photo props resting in one.
Manager and juggler extraordinaire, Lizabeth Wood, says businesses reward their customers with gift certificates to the cafe. This mingling is common along Russell Street. They support each other and get along.
Russell Street. It defines Smiths Falls, the people who concentrate there and the businesses.