Now that summer has come to its official end, we thought it would be the perfect time to take to the streets and get in one last walking tour of our beautiful city while the leaves are still brightly stunning, and the temperature still warm.
And, when it comes to the ultimate of urban chic, who better to lead the way than Janis Galloway, Agency Director of Publicity Room. With leaves crunching beneath our feet, she and I set out to explore the newly revitalized Edmonton downtown core in the mid-morning light.
We meet at the Mercer Warehouse and decide the best route is a loop that will take us as far east as the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) before finishing at some of our favourite shops along 104 Street.
"I have lived on the southside of the river for 12 years, but I've worked downtown and been one of thousands who commute daily to the core for almost all of those years,” says Janis. “From my lunch hour wanderings, or rushing to and from meetings, to my after work socializing, I've got my favourite paths and spots on lockdown, especially 104 Street and the periphery of Churchill Square, which have the absolute best spots downtown all within walking distance of each other.”
Heading through Churchill Square, Janis shares with me that one of her favourite places to spend the afternoon is the AGA.
"One of my goals of becoming an entrepreneur was to take Fridays off,” she says. “When I'm able to close the laptop for the day and slip away, my favourite thing is to grab an almond milk latte from Credo or Lock Stock and trek east towards the AGA or, I’ll make my way west to Latitude 53 for a quiet, solitary afternoon of art gazing."
After perusing the AGA, we get down to some very serious business: shopping. Both of us are passionate about supporting local businesses, so it was lovely to compare notes. On Janis’s list of favourites were Workhall, Habitat etc, and Vacancy Hall.
"These are places that are intimate and interesting. Each has something unique to offer and a stop by will always result in running into a friendly face and having a quick chat, learning something new and rekindling a feeling of being part of the community. Also...I just like what they sell.”
As we walk from Workhall heading west down 102 Avenue, we discuss how Edmonton’s core has changed since Roger’s Arena was built. Personally, I have lived downtown for nearly a year, but am curious to learn what Janis wishes the downtown had more of...and why.
"That’s a loaded question. Ha! I think downtown is becoming more of an entertainment district and I would love to see that balanced with amenities that also serve the residential community. For example, a grocery store east of 104 Street would be a nice addition, as well as store hours that would keep people downtown instead of getting into their vehicles to drive elsewhere. Many stores downtown don’t open before 11 a.m and most shops close by 6 p.m. That's a problem in my opinion."
Ducking into Habitat etc, one of the many classic brick buildings on 104 Street, we immediately run into friends. It’s certainly one of our favourite things about being downtown. The community.
"I love running into my friends during the weekday, seeing them bike down the street, bumping into them on the bus, or standing together in line at the coffee shop,” says Janis. “It's nice seeing your friends going about their business, working hard at whatever it is they do, which is usually working really hard to make the city better.”
Last on the list, across from the Neon Light Museum is the Hideout Distro in Vacancy Hall, the cutest little nook of a shop you'll ever see.
Inside a shop run by a local artist -- and in the interest of promoting local culture -- we couldn't stop ourselves, of course, from chatting more about the best parts of downtown. And why these few blocks matter.
"I'm excited about the idea of having a downtown that is vibrant during the evening instead of a ghost town after 6 p.m. I think the path to get there will take longer than we anticipate, but there is a lot of interesting conversation going on right now about street-level business, walkability and public art. I think holding developers a bit more responsible for the kind of structures being built is key. There are thousands of people downtown, but the reason it feels dead is because you simply can't see them. They're behind layers of cement in office towers or parkades.
“Finally, I hope we remember the value of independent businesses as we move forward -- that's what creates character in a neighbourhood. When you're visiting another city, the last thing you're doing is seeking out a Starbucks, if you know what I mean. It's the surprising, indie spots that you remember about your favourite cities."
Looking to expand your walking tour past the route we took? Janis suggested two places that she personally describes as “mundane, but joyfully personal spots that make me happy.”
"Walking under the Harbin Chinatown gate late at night after we’ve (she and her boyfriend) been out watching a band or having some cocktails with friends at the Hotel Mac is a sweet spot for me." Also on that sentimental, worth-the-walk list would be “lazily shuffling towards The Commodore diner on a Sunday morning with friends for downtown's cheapest breakfast and a strong black cup of coffee served in a chipped white ceramic mug. And of course a stop at the Wee Book Inn on the way back is always a must too."