The historic area of Barrington Street is buttressed by the towers at Scotia Square at one end and the Maritime Centre on the other. It’s a busy thoroughfare for transit, local workers and shoppers. Sure, there are pockets of fallow storefront, but all it takes are a couple of key retailers to create a little excitement. Right now, Starfish Properties, the king of Barrington Street real estate—both the booming and the empty—is gutting the former Granite Brewery, and there are things going on in the space once filled by Sam The Record Man. Change is coming up and down the street.
Mall in one
Sitting in the Scotia Square Food Court (2000 Barrington) admiring the central fountain and the afternoon light coming in at an angle, it's hard to think of an indoor public space in Halifax that has offers better opportunities for people-watching. The food's solid, too---a startling collection of international flavours. Try the fresh specials---Tuesday's fajitas are boss---at Mama Gratti's or check out the Seoul chicken at Korean Garden Express. We like A Taste of India, Ray's Lebanese Cuisine and The Dill Pickle, to mention just a few of the wide variety of choices for the discerning fan of lunch.
Elsewhere in the mall, The Wicker Emporium (5201 Duke, 422-9498) is featuring its summer lines, including ceramic outdoor patio furniture and a collection of teak furniture---tables, loungers, chairs and more. And speaking of chairs, through May buy one and get the second for half price.
If you go across the street via the pedway (such a weird word, like something out of Logan's Run) you'll find the Barrington Place Shops (1903 Barrington), with AM radio hits playing over the PA. "Where you been lately, there's a new kid in town," sing The Eagles, and its almost as though the mall hasn't changed since 1976---in a comforting way, of course. In 1976, the Watch Repair Centre (423-5998) started up across the street in Scotia Square, proprietor Sam Frances tells me. He carries fairly high-end chronometres, and is the only retailer east of Montreal carrying Breitling watches. "If it keeps time we repair it, plus purses, sunglasses---we do them." Filling out the space are Classic Shoes (422-2070), which has bags and rain gear, too, The Keyosk (429-1221) and Colwell's (420-1222) women's fashions and Reaction Hair Studio. Down in the Delta Barrington lobby, Trader's Bar (494-7577) is open for drinks.
Further south, the block that faces The Grand Parade is really happening. Hilltribe Designs (1729 Barrington, 492-8254) is in the midst of an end-of-season clearance sale, offering 30 to 70 percent off a wide selection of clothes. "There's always something on a ridiculous sale," says one salesperson. Surprising items among the clothes include handmade sculptures, photo albums, jewellery, earrings and scarves. Stepping into the Elephant's Eye Bistro (1727 Barrington, 420-1225), a peaceful oasis on this busy street, you'll discover popular fishcakes, seafood chowder, homemade crepes and gingerbread. They do breakfast, lunch and catering.
Summer is "crazy season" for Freak Lunchbox (1723 Barrington, 420-9151), with a pile of new products coming in daily---Romulan Ale (just in time for the new Star Trek movie), new toys, and new candy, including giant blue raspberry gummy bottles. Have a shot of Freak Juice from the slushy machine and see stars! (You don't see actual stars, unless Lucy Liu is in town.) Peepshow Girly Boutique (1717 Barrington, 404-3886) has a slew of new "cute, quirky" clothing lines, like Who's That Girl from Belgium and Numph from Denmark, and organic bamboo style from Spanish label Skunkfunk. Look for plenty of jewellery, jeans and other stuff designed to make you look hot.
At GF Roberts Jewellery (1711 Barrington, 422-2197), in business locally since 1954, you'll find 50 percent off amber and silver, 20 percent off the gold stock. Next door at Foreign Affair (1705 Barrington, 429-1407) check out the tax-free sale on fashions and bags.
If you're shopped out, you might choose to take the elevator to the second floor at 1717 Barrington and enter the bright, open studio space of Studio In Essence, a Pilates studio by day and dance studio by night, offering break dancing, hula hoops, belly dancing, yoga and pole dancing. Three or four times a year SIE hosts a showcase, where students and instructors perform in an evening of movement, spoken word and music. The next is in June; for more details, or to try a class, call 405-5500.
Hub-nobbing in limbo
Amazingly cluttered used and antiquarian bookstore J.W. Doull (1684 Barrington, 429-1652) also has a sale on right now, running at least through June: Buy five or more books, get 15 percent off, buy a dozen or more, get 25 percent off. Above the Certainly Cinnamon Café (1673 Barrington, 423-2466) and its sandwiches, salads and catering business, is The Hub (482-4729), a communal meeting space. Member Zoe Caron and co-owner Joanne Macrae show us through the open-concept, high-ceilinged, bright room, lined with eco-friendly carpet, drywall insulated with post-industrial denim and recycled furniture. "It's all about shared resources," says Caron, as members pay for time in the space or one of the meeting rooms, anything from hourly to monthly access. Regulars include local software developers, graphic designers, small non-profits, artists and businesspeople.
These blocks of the downtown are in a sort of limbo---there are two active development proposals for the area: Owner Lou Reznick wants to build a 16-storey tower at the site of the Roy Building (former home of Dooly's) and Frank Medjuck has plans for a 20-storey building on the site of the Discovery Centre, and it's anyone's guess where those proposals will go.
Despite the uncertainty, the area features interesting businesses---Venus Envy (1598 Barrington, 422-0004), for example---because we love sex, don't we? At CD Plus (1592 Barrington, 422-1559) you can find a host of reasonably priced used CDs and DVDs, and across the street at the niftily organized Random Play, you can find a used copy of the double disc edition of Seven on DVD. (Instant envy, maybe some greed.)
Attica to basement books
At Fireworks Gallery, the sale of the month of May is 25 percent off gold, in case you're looking for wedding-season rings for your betrothed. There are four floors of Attica (1566 Barrington, 423-2557) for all your classy furniture needs, Venus Pizza (1558 Barrington, 425-8882) and its astonishingly good shwarma, Quebec-based art supply store Deserres (1546 Barrington, 425-5566),and, of course, the double delight of Ciboulette (1541 Barrington, 423-5282), the cafe served by the kitchen of Chives (1537 Barrington, 420-9626).
The Maritime Centre at Salter and Barrington, which creates a concrete wind tunnel for pedestrians, has its own gems, such as Niche Lounge Supperclub (1505 Barrington, 423-6632). They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and showcase great jazz artists whose music drifts over the patio in the summer. The building is also the home of Halifax Dance's dance school and fitness education centre, located in the lower level of the interior mall. Call 422-2006 to learn some new steps.
Down in the depths of the centre is Dustjacket Books (492-0666), one of the coolest used bookstores in the city, owned by Chris Cooper. From mass-market paperbacks to rare editions, the selection is impressive. Cooper's former career was in naval architecture, so you'll notice a healthy collection of military tomes, though the store also just received a thousand science fiction paperbacks. Cooper does internet sales as well. Look for him at dustjacket.ca.