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Go local in Clayton Park 

Clayton Park stretches from Fairview to Bayer's Lake. We zeroed in on these pleasant merchants.

Ritual Studio
480 Parkland Drive,

Sadly, popular coffee house The Almond Cafe is now closed, but just down the plaza is the Ritual Tanning and Vibration Salon, where two lovely and bronzed ladies with startlingly white smiles, clad in black, will tan you up and whiten your teeth. Be sure to check out the T-Zone Vibration Technology, which they say will increase muscle strength, build bone mass density, improve flexibility, improve circulation and turn you into a nine-year-old Hindu boy. (Just kidding about that last part.)

Simmons Mattress Factory
172 Chain Lake Drive,

Though the name on the sign is a brand recognized nationally, the Simmons Mattress Gallery is a free-standing Simmons specialty store. "I do all my own marketing, organize my own promotions, choose my own products and models," says co-owner, president and general manager Jordanna Caine, who you might recognize from her wacky TV commercials. "We are renovating the store to have the same signage and look as the new Simmons Mattress Gallery stores that are opening---so there is definitely some unity between the galleries, but we are still independents rather than a chain." The store is just coming to the end of a series of renovations, to prepare for a big April 10 grand re-opening, with deals on "Simmons, Natura latex mattresses, adjustable beds and solid wood, Canadian made furniture," says Caine. "It's going to be a big month and a great opportunity for people to get into one of the specialty or high-end Simmons mattresses at a greatly reduced price." Also expect to see a 12-foot-high inflatable bowling ball and pins in front of the store. No, we're not kidding.

The Indian Buffet
8 Oland Crescent,

The owner of the only Indian eatery in the BLIP, Amar Sethi was pleased to see Shoptalk walk into his establishment. "You helped us a lot," he says, "You were the first to tell people about us." We are always glad to help turn people on to good food, and there is plenty available here, buffet-style, all-you-can-eat for $9.99. We saw three vegetable dishes, two meat and two soups, and Sethi says the dishes are always rotating, depending on what they're making in the kitchen. So you could come on different days, even different times of the day, and find a different spread. "People call me and ask what's on the menu," he says. However, we can assure punters that the popular butter chicken is rarely absent for long.

Fredie's Fantastic Fish House
8 Oland Crescent,

Speaking of good food, right next door from the Indian Buffet is the tiny but super-friendly Fredie's Fantastic Fish House, if you're looking for fish and chips, deep-fried to perfection. The service is great too---you won't be at a loss for conversation with the sweet wait staff and Shania Twain on the radio. Expect a patio in the summer, and ask about summertime desserts, or about sweet potato fries anytime.

TAO: The Adventure Outfitters
182 Chain Lake Drive,

March is restock month at TAO, so in the next few weeks the walls (and even the ceiling) will be covered in kayaks and canoes and tents. Though the store is a big box, it remains independent and still offers the largest selection of kayaks in Atlantic Canada. Last year they had 55 different models of kayak and 22 different models of canoe. But as the new stock comes in, the old must go out. You'll find jackets, pants and winter apparel of all sorts from 40 to 60 percent off, and there are deals to be found on skis and snowshoes, if you hurry. And, for fans of the Reel Paddling Film Festival, we can report it will be held again at Dal this year on April 30. Inquire in store for tickets, on sale soon.

The Last Gamestore
278 Lacewood Drive,

There were once two, now there is but one. The Dartmouth location closed in 2009 and the stock was moved here, including what was left of their comic selection, though there's been nothing new in comics since August 2009, so what's left is four-for-a-dollar. The focus now is video games, but mostly older stuff: It's a retro game store, with cartridges for Super Nintendo and Genesis game systems. And while downloading a lot of those older games is now a popular pastime, "There's something to be said for owning the item," says store owner Adam Perry. The store sells both the games and the old machines, as well as new non-official machines that will play the older tech.

Winston's Pub
278 Lacewood Drive,

"We had our crowd coming in for the Olympics," reports bartender/server Nick Edgar, though he was surprised by what really got people excited. "Curling was as big as hockey." The bar has changed names a few times, most recently known as The Copper Penny, but Winston's was what it was called when it opened decades ago. The point being, this place is a real community gathering spot and has been for years, offering a wide selection of beverages and deep menu of pub food as well as great bands playing live in the evenings. The Stanfields gigged there recently, and on Friday March 13, you'll find at Winston's Hot Rocks, a band that not only sounds just like The Rolling Stones, but really looks like them too. It's eerie.

Smiling Dragon Tattoos
3621 Dutch Village Road,

His business used to be located just down from Pizza Corner and known as Skintastic, but when Dave Schwartz moved to the west end six years ago, he changed his business name to honour his father, also an artist. Schwartz, who has been tattooing for 26 years---making him likely the most experienced tattoo artist in town---says business in his new location was good for a while, but due to the recession, for the past year "business has been in the tank." As a result, he says that along with his apprentice, he can take care of your bookings pretty quickly right now, but inquire before May, when he predicts things will start picking up.

House of Halal
3559 Dutch Village Road,

Halal meat has been properly blessed, and when slaughtered the blood is drawn in a certain way to make it permissible to eat under Islamic law. Halal can also apply to other foods available at House of Halal. Sure, there's free-range chicken, beef, goat and lamb---provided by Mike Oulton's farm in Windsor and sources in Montreal and Ontario---but you'll also find dried goods, grains and even marshmallow and Jello. Pigeon, turkey and rabbit are all available by special order. "Anything that is Halal we try to bring in," says Javidan Khan, who co-owns the store with Hanaa Rashad.


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