By MAGGIE M, Editor, thewedge.LIVE
This writer went on another tourist marathon last week, this time in the Town of Arnprior, Ontario. First, I explored its natural hot spots; then, I discovered some of its excellent businesses, through a downpour which did not cease. It’s only rain, not fire and brimstone; so, I visited each, progressively more soaked as the day evolved. I was droopy looking; but, the bounce in my step was unabated.
The last place I visited had been opened for just over a month; but, it was special to me, stirring up fond memories of my childhood. I sat with David Pelkey, Founder, The Vintage Crate, in stuffed leather chairs sharing visitors’ emotional experiences when they enter the shop. The room itself, one of several, seemed like a rustic cabin, filled with treasures, fifties tin, antique signs and vintage toys.
Pelkey has been in Kinburn, then Arnprior, since he was in Grade 3. Recently, he exited the high-tech business after 35 years to follow a passion shared with his 19 year-old son, Noah. He bought the building on John Street in December 2016; its transformation was swift, yet impressive. His beautiful wife, Denise, is also a presence, specializing in the rustic gifting end of the business. It’s a family affair.
“I no longer hold fifty meetings and respond to five-hundred emails in a day,” Pelkey remarks.
On the heels of his son Jonah’s graduation, Pelkey and I spent a few hours capturing the essence of the store. It is chock-full of authentic artifacts from the 1900s up to 1950s. It was hysterically funny, photographing the shop exterior at sunset, while he held an umbrella over the camera, both getting soaked, thunder clapping and lightning slicing the air. We were unflapped. I was already soaked to the bones from the day running up and down John and Elgin streets; so, I had the advantage. It was not a good hair day; but, a rich, delicious coffee brewed by Pelkey from fresh beans in the shop’s vintage soda stand was a perfect finish.
One of the oldest businesses in Arnprior is the O’Brien Theatre, built in 1908. It’s rare to find a full-fledged movie theatre in a town with less than 10,000 population; but, this place is more exceptional than I had expected. Kevin and Kathy Marshall, Owners, have lovingly restored this historic building to its former splendour and added a second theatre upstairs by extending the former mezzanine balcony. Architects were helpful in choosing an historic colour palette reminiscent of the 1920s, the ‘flapper’ years on the heels of WW1. The ticket booth, lobby, doorways and food concessions, all remind visitors of the era. The theatre itself is a museum.
The O’Brien runs two shows in two separate theatres every night and many matinees, from two digital projection rooms. The theatre went full digital five years ago in order to keep its access to ‘box-office’ movies. The lower, main theatre has 290 seats and the upper theatre, 150; this is impressive scale when you compare the O’Brien to shrinking urban multiplexes.
The O’Brien tends to attract families with children of all ages; so the movie selection matches visitor tastes. I expect there will be something for this writer, though I do pine for, The Sound of Music, on the big screen.
Rainy days are packed at the O’Brien. No home screen can reproduce the visceral experience of wide screen and big sound to fill the void that is, ‘rainy day blues.’ You might catch Marshall busking, performing a flying popcorn sprite as he did for this writer on the right. The theatre was packed with students before I arrived; so, what’s another bag of popcorn to sweep up.
And then, I met the three grand dames of John Street, Audrey Jamieson, Tara Pocket and Gwen Storie.
Audrey’s In Town Fashions, owned and run by Audrey Jamieson for over 35 years is a ‘go-to’ shop for women seeking style. Eleven years ago, the shop was nearby in Braeside, and branded, Audrey’s Village Boutique; so, the ‘in town’ qualifier suited the move to Arnprior’s prime location on John Street.
The shop features mostly high-end, Canadian designers. Joseph Ribkoff, timeless and classy populates the racks. Habitat, comfy, casual wear is in high demand. And Michael Kors, classic and trendy, is also present, origin be darned.
“Ribkoff conforms to you, not you to it. He knows how to fit a woman’s figure. He is renown for black and white; but gradually he has popped out the colours,” details Store Manager, Shelley Valade.
Jamieson is always on the move with four to six buying trips to Toronto yearly, and another two to Montreal, always searching for “new stuff.” A second location in Cobourg is always on her mind; yet, its staff keeps it running smoothly.
The biggest draw in Toronto is her two sons. “They are my biggest accomplishments,” Jamieson exclaims.
Charity fashion shows add to her schedule. Causes from breast cancer to the local library are beneficiaries. Thoughtfully, Jamieson has invited Kelly Boutique, specializing in fashion for ladies with mastectomies, to visit once-a-month.
Jamieson is well supported by staff including Shelley Valade, Store Manager, for the last eight years. Valade is popular with customers; this relieves Jamieson to meet the demands of the business. Jill Alexander, an artist of local renown, is another member of this style team.
“Shelley is my right arm,” Jamieson shares often.
Valade regales about a recent business trip to Montreal with Jamieson, where they visited a Portuguese restaurant, a favorite haunt. “Half the place knew her name before we left,” she adds. “She can work a room. This is Audrey.” It’s funny to hear two viewpoints. Jamieson remembers the chicken served and meeting Simon Chang that day, while Valade remembers Jamieson with admiration.
The consensus is, Jamieson is fashion royalty in town. She has earned the title by hard work and a sense of service to others, no less this writer.
“I’ve made wonderful friends in this business,” Jamieson opines.
Tara Pocket and husband, James Jack, have taken over, The Gallery Gift Shop, founded in 1990, from parents, Marg and Anthony Pocket. Tara has been a partner with her mom since 1992. She was born in Zimbabwe, but lost her accent as she became a naturalized Canadian at the age of six; however, James can delight you with his South African accent. They met on a visit to Johannesburg in 2000 and have been a wedded team for 16 years.
This store has greatly contributed to the success of Downtown Arnprior for 27 years. The current shop was built from the ground up in 2002 on a parking lot; prior to this, it was above the book shop.
When I entered, I bent down to straighten the shop’s African-styled rug; much to my surprise it was a faux rug, painted onto the floor brilliantly, with a faux wrinkle. I laughed at my falling for this visual trap. Such is the whimsy and humor in this large shop stuffed with colorful home decor, local artwork and jewelry.
Among its treasures, the renown Ayala Bar jewelry brand from Tel Aviv, earrings, bracelets and necklaces–each are unique artifacts–are well stocked in the store. They are truly beautiful, colourful and elegant.
Tara and I tried to persuade James to don Ayala Bar earrings with Tara for a lark in our photo–not a chance. A man who won’t compromise his manly principles is to be praised.
“Gwen is the wise one,” a secret admirer claims. Gwen Storie may indeed be the smartest retailer in town; she has spent twenty-four years procuring, reading and purveying books, in the same location. Cheerfulness is not lost on this wise one. A doorway connects her shop to The Gallery Gift Shop, so cheer is clearly infectious.
I can’t help but wonder about names. It just seems our names often define our future, our vocation. Storie has heard endless remarks about the serendipity in her name. Storie sells stories. End of story. Well, not quite, the shop is replete with non-fiction books, gifts and to quote Storie, “reeeaaallllly good greeting cards.” She is intent on sharing, “everything, I mean every item in the shop, is hand-picked by me and my great staff.”
Everyone in town is ‘abuzz’ with the arrival of comedienne, Mary Walsh, this November at Arnprior’s extraordinary library. (I am told the Librarian is an award winner.) Storie will be hosting a book signing table stocked with Walsh’s first book, Crying For The Moon, a comedic drama. The book is sold out at the shop; but, a second shipment is on its way. The last copy sold as I stood meeting Storie for the first time.
I was curious about Storie’s reading appetite. I could not peg any genre; she is a book traveler, loving all. Right now, she is reading, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundhati Roy.
The Arnprior Book Shop is beautifully appointed and merchandised. A few corners are reserved for early childhood, readers and bear-huggers. And a hat tree is a focal point upon entry. I watched Storie assist a grandmother size a hat for a 2 year-old with exceptional aplomb and patience. Aye, there’s the rub.
No adventure is complete without rewarding oneself with great food in a great restaurant. At lunch, I was treated to a delicious, Ariel Crepe, at the town’s trendy and busy, Krave Bistro. The unusual ingredient that sent me into rapture: pernod. This liqueur-based cream sauce suffused its contents, chicken, jumbo shrimp and mushrooms in a soft crepe.
I sat with my namesake, Maggie Kerkhoff, tasting and enjoying. Maggie was celebrating the fourth anniversary of her retirement as school teacher with a Krave Hamburger platter. She raved the Krave! (this could be their new mantra)
Trip Advisor can send Restauranteurs into bone-chilling dread at their visits and web chatter; but, nothing but praise is heaped by them on Krave Bistro. In fact, Krave is now a Trip Advisor recipient of their, 2017 Certificate of Excellence.
Rachelle and Randy Paulen opened Krave Bistro in April 2015, with 45 seats upstairs and 45 downstairs. When I returned at dinner to capture this couple in action, it seemed the place was bursting at the seams.
It was remarkable how they allowed me to enter their inner sanctum with my tripod, while everyone worked in military formation to complete orders perfectly and swiftly. All managed to avoid tripping on my camera and tripod at the intersection of all activity without complaining. Rachelle impressed me a great deal, not just because this great beauty oozes a generous spirit; but, she is a General directing traffic at the hot point, a Gatekeeper between the creators and servers. Smart strategy rarely seen in restaurants.
And then, there is Amy Rafter, Bistro Manager. This beautiful woman (yes, another one) is critical to Krave, keeping watch over the ‘civilian’ area, and vetting visitor’s such as this writer.
Another option to reward yourself with great food is a visit to Valley Roots on Madawaska Blvd. This shop is only a few minutes from downtown, near the bridge. In its early days, it was located downtown on Elgin Street.
Valley Roots is a very busy place especially during the warm seasons. Every staff member is moving at a fast clip cutting to order and packaging fresh meat and deli meals for two line-ups of customers right up to the door. I watched the staff scamper left to right, right to left, without crashing. This is a show in itself, keeping customers lined-up entertained by the energy. Taking pictures in this environment is on par with storm-chasing!
Arnprior’s popular butcher, featuring “Fresh Meats and Homestyle Eats,” is opened seven days a week. Clearly, the town is getting its daily protein. Barry Burnette founded Valley Roots sixteen years ago and has never looked back. He looks like a happy man, when you can pull him out of his workstation, to the ‘weirdness’ of posing for a photo. It just added to the entertainment, giving the staff a long-lasting tease; but, the closing act was yet to come.
As we spoke and chuckled, a call came in on a device on his hip. This is, I trust, the most technology this man will ever adopt and it serves him well. Woot! Barry fled for a higher calling. He is a Volunteer Fireman. Butcher becomes Hero and vanishes.