"THIS is as River Heights as it gets."
That's what merchants clustered on Corydon Avenue between Waterloo and Niagara streets have to say about their little cluster of businesses and services. Located half-way between Cambridge Street -- the border of Crescentwood -- and Kenaston Boulevard to the west, the 20 businesses and services could supply everything the neighbourhood would need in a three-day snowstorm.
The first thing you notice is people walking dogs of all sizes. Two pups go by, pulling at their leashes, followed by three more, one of them in boots and a sweater. Another dog and his owner stop for a long sniff, down the front of a store.
"Why the dogs?" I ask everybody around me. Because River Heights suburban streets are double long, they explain. Corydon is usually the closest corner to head for when you're walking the four-footed darlings
There's lots to see when you get to this corner. We're talking two banks, two hairdressers, a chichi restaurant, a chiropractor, dentist and even a natural healing veterinary clinic with doggie acupuncture and chiropractic services, Add to that an "original" Italian coffee shop, a jewelry store, Autopac biz, two gift shops, and, of course, a 7-Eleven for all-nighter supplies and daytime slushies.
"It's awesome around here," says Liz Picton who calls herself a "server extraordinaire" at Bonfire Bistro, 1433 Corydon Ave. "And, it's quite safe to walk around at night. There's people everywhere walking their dogs. I grew up in this neighborhood... it's mine!"
Owner Duncan Grant's cosy bistro, which specializes in seafood dishes and wood-fired thin crust pizzas, is 11-years-old now and very popular with foodies in River Heights and the rest of the city. (Grant is also known for creating Burrito Del Rio on River Avenue and Cafe Carlo on Lilac Street.) The bar and two dining rooms hold about 50 people and the open firepit oven is warm and inviting, with cooks buzzing around in pillbox hats.
Everybody seems to like everybody, in this tiny business world of shops and eateries. "You can even order from Bonfire and eat it here while you get your hair done," laughs stylist Sommer Dunn at Scissors Paper & Stone hair studio, 1436 Corydon Ave. It's directly across the street, and owned by Tracey-Leigh Forsythe.
Talk about a sensual set-up. The theme of this large beauty salon is "Japanese spa" with screens and exotic eastern art. They also have an esthetician for nails and treatments such as facials, plus classy white cotton beach clothes to sell from Moulé on Academy, and colourful jewellery to complete one's look.
And here come more dogs down the street! They could call this Dog Walk Central. A few lucky dogs, like tiny Maddie at The Rock Jewellery Store at 1459 Corydon Ave., come to work with their owners. She sleeps in the coat sleeve of her mistress, Susan Bishop, who owns the place with husband John. Susan is a jewelry artist with a studio on the second floor of her shop only accessible by an open staircase from the cash area below.
While The Rock has a big sign outside, look sharp as you can sometimes miss it. The shop front is obscured seasonally by John's fenced Christmas tree lot and spring bedding plants business. Inside it's a fun mixture of jewelry cases, purses, accessories and garden decor items. Think dramatic, like giant clay pots, unique wizard statues and country art/cabin signs. In early winter the place is full of theme-decorated Christmas trees, as well as Susan's precious metal jewellery and costume jewellery by other designers. Upstairs, she creates new pieces, repairs jewellery and watches, and orders beautiful things for the store.
Next door in the same building is the newest kid on the block, Massimo Buono's Cafferia 360, which opened Dec 1. Originally from Italy, Buono sells "authentic" Italian espresso and cappuccino and pure chocolate and some gourmet Italian deli store items. The coffee, even the machines, come from Italy, so he can control the flavour 100 per cent, he says.
So what brought him to Winnipeg? Love, of course. Buono met his wife Donatella Casale when she visited from Winnipeg. "She came on holiday to my town Picerno, where she has family."
Buono lived right across the road. When she came back another time to visit her uncles and cousins after her aunt died, love blossomed with the young entrepreneur. "We got married in 2001 in both Canada and Italy."
This is no ordinary coffee shop. Buono's signs show he has 20 specialty coffee drinks for stay-in and 10 for take-out. One of his most popular coffees is Latte Macchiato, which is a glass of hot foamy milk with a shot of espresso. "It will float right on the top," he grins. Nutellino is another specialty drink: first the popular Nutella spread, then a shot of espresso and foamy milk -- a sinful breakfast drink. You'll note the place is loaded with chocolate from Italy and the shining glass baking counter feature Italian treats such as cannoli, tiramisu and cornetti (croissants) with elevated cake savers full of crispy biscotti.
On weekends, the charming Buono makes a special pot of smooth and creamy hot chocolate like one might be served in a hotel bed on a European holiday.
On the north side of Corydon, the Paper Gallery at 1437 Corydon, which shifted its location from Academy six years ago, is owned by Anne and Itzik Joudan. They're big on funky stuff, like the famous Banana Guard made of plastic with holes for ventilation, which appeared on Dragon's Den.
Then there's trendy "bacon strip" everything, and spatulas shaped like guitars, plus measuring cups which look like Russian nesting dolls and "toast tattoos" for imprinting "I love you" and "Happy Birthday."
My favourite oddity is the Shakespearean Insult Gum -- two gumballs and an insult wrapped in packs named for different plays by the well-known bard. Here's one of the gentler ones: "Thy breath stinks with eating toasted cheese."
They sell wild kitchen gadgets, stuffed toys, wedding and other event invitations, and racks of clever cards.
Across the street there's always a hustle and bustle at The popular Greek Market, 1440 Corydon, owned by Irene and John French, where you can buy a delicious meal from the fresh trays of just-baked Greek foods, such as lemon roasted potatoes, spanakopita, chicken souvlaki, meat and veggie moussaka, roasted mixed veggies.
There are frozen dishes in the back wall freezer so you can fake it at home.
"Oh yes, we do lots of catering. That's part of the reason we do so much business," says Lidia Domingos.