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Laura Byrne Paquet

Ottawa Insider: Westboro

Published in Wish

            A decade ago, the 11-block stretch of Ottawa’s Richmond Road from McRae Avenue to Golden Avenue was known mostly to neighbourhood residents, who dropped by the unremarkable retail strip to pick up a loaf of bread or meet friends at a casual pub.
These days, however, Westboro has arguably surpassed other downtown neighbourhoods like the Glebe and New Edinburgh as the place where trendy Ottawans go to see and be seen. The opening of an eye-catching Mountain Equipment Co-op store in 2000 seemed to kick the area’s gentrification into high gear. Nearby sports stores spruced up their wares and other outdoorsy retailers moved in. Soon, the street was awash in yoga studios, coffee houses and gourmet shops (including one geared solely to dogs), and buzzing with the jackhammers of condo construction crews.
These days, as well as dropping into big-name chains like Lululemon and California Closets, you can browse for origami paper or antique tables at dozens of locally based stores. When the shopping gets tough, stop for a cup of fair-trade organic coffee at Bridgehead or a juicy burger at The Works.
 
            An 1880s building that once housed a blacksmith’s forge is now home to Kitchenalia (274 Richmond Rd., 613-728-6121). From Jamie Oliver portable stoves to Australian-made Maxwell & Williams dishes, there’s something for every amateur chef. Party planners will gravitate to products like quirky cocktail napkins, while bakers will appreciate hard-to-find items like pie weights. Owner Warren Snider also seeks out gizmos customers remember from their childhoods, like hamburger stackers, and stocks a growing range of gourmet foods.
            In May 2006, Harnn & Thann Canada (312 Richmond Rd., 613-216-2390, www.harnn.com and www.thann.info) became the first Canadian outlet of a worldwide Thai body care chain. Harnn is a home spa line, while Thann focuses on hair and skin products. Both lines make extensive use of natural ingredients such as rice bran oil, and you can test them at a sleek sink in the middle of the Zen-like shop. Look for exotic scent combinations such as jasmine and pomegranate hand cream.
            Since 1988, Forbie Active Wear (314 Richmond Rd., 613-724-6167, www.forbieactivewear.com) has been sewing up off-the-rack and custom-made sportswear, including bathing suits, cycling shorts, fleece jackets and workout wear. The place doesn’t look like much—the change rooms are tiny and the area behind the counter is cluttered with sewing machines and bolts of brightly coloured fabric—but the service is friendly and the prices reasonable.
Sophisticates with more taste than space love Distinctively Wood (412 Churchill Ave. North, 613-729-5956, www.distinctivelywood.com). It’s the exclusive Ottawa distributor for elegant wall beds made by Quebec manufacturer Mobilier Boomrang, as well as other loft-friendly pieces, such as storage ottomans and dining banquettes. Bigger items are stored in the basement, while the upstairs showrooms are laid out like a small apartment. You’ll find lots of low-slung bedroom furniture, microfibre sofas and bistro-style patio sets, along with paintings by local artists.
Renovating a Victorian house, or just enjoy a bit of romantic mood lighting? Head to Architectural Antiques (356 Richmond Rd., 613-722-1510), which specializes in restored and reproduction light fixtures ranging from Art Deco desk lamps to ornate Murano glass chandeliers. You’ll also find repro bathroom hardware, porcelain address plaques, and antique hot-air register covers and fireplace screens.
            To bring a dash of Japanese flair to your next dinner party, pick up a set of exquisite sushi plates and chopsticks from East Wind (361 Richmond Rd., 613-729-9191, www.eastwind.ca). Other items in the wide-ranging stock of all things Asian include calligraphy supplies, incense, candles, organic silk clothing, wrapping paper, and books on Eastern philosophy and cuisine. The shop also holds occasional classes on topics like origami and feng shui.
            HUSH ReSale Clothing (395 Richmond Rd., 613-724-4874, www.hushclothes.com) is tucked into a basement next to an electronics repair shop. Don’t be fooled by the downmarket digs, though; this is a consignment store with sass. Recently featured on the TV show “Diva on a Dime,” HUSH specializes in trendy pieces—Lycra tops, designer jeans, floaty dresses and fabulous shoes. There’s even a maternity section with nary a pink ruffle in sight.
            The British Invasion is still happening at FabGear 64 (420 Richmond Road, 613-725-1964), where—depending on what owner Bob Cabana has been able to unearth lately—finds may include anything from a set of Beatles dolls to an autographed Rolling Stones poster. But 1960s memorabilia is just the tip of the pop-culture iceberg here, as the stock also includes vinyl records from multiple decades, Corner Gas hockey jerseys, Hawaiian shirts and western gear.