Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tiny but TRENDY

Tuxedo Junction a smart, stylish little spot

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Lauren Friesen of LoLa Boutique (Maureen Scurfield / Winnipeg Free Press)

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Lauren Friesen of LoLa Boutique (Maureen Scurfield / Winnipeg Free Press)

Nobody can tell you why the little strip mall at 2090 Corydon Ave. is called Tuxedo Junction. There are no crossroads, no train and no petticoats.

But it's fun heading out there on a destination drive, because the small shops are funky and quite exclusive.

Take For Eyes Optical Boutique, for example. You can get eyeglass frames with prescriptions so wild and exclusive, they're worldwide conversation pieces. If you want to talk gemstones, you can spend a bundle. The most expensive glasses sold in the shop to date were "diamond-adorned and went for $5,000," says store manager Kim Rosner, who posed for me on the red and black love seat (from SoHo, the trendy Manhattan neighbourhood) with two giant hands forming the back.

For Eyes frames range from Lady Gaga-style hot pink cat's eyes to heavy navy blue and orange glasses for men that look like they belong on a yacht off the coast of Antigua. Customer Kish Kapoor breezes in and tries those babies right on. First, he takes off his For Eyes industrial black glasses, with green dots that look like computer language. "When I was away, people were talking about me, wondering which movie star I was," he laughs. "I get gazillions of compliments. I buy all my glasses here and don't even look at the price. I travel all over the world and people always ask me, 'Where did you get those glasses?' "

Kapoor really appreciates the help from Rosner and the gang. "They help me choose my frames here, because I can't see to choose for myself. Kim looks at me and tells me honestly how they look."

Says Rosner, "It's very personal here, like being with your doctor or your tailor. People tell staff all kinds of things about their lifestyles as they choose their frames."

The office is a partnership of five optometrists -- Bruce Rosner, Steven Malo, Stephen Mintz, Elisa Fiorentino and Alissa Boroditsky -- plus manager/buyer/optician Kim Rosner, who came on board the business reluctantly. She was a fine arts grad, just helping out while a staffer was away on maternity leave. "That was 18 years ago. I love working here."

"People come back here every two years and we know their tastes," says Rosner. "Sometimes people request a certain staff member. Often other customers gather round to help. It's like a party in here."

Rosner says Canadians are extremely fashionable with their eyewear. "When I go to New York and look at people on the street and what they're wearing, I realize Canada is way ahead of the U.S.," she says.

LOLA BOUTIQUE: A few doors over at LoLa Boutique, co-owner Lauren Thiessen takes yours truly on a tour that ranges from the sophisticated but playful metal work of Michael Aram to novelties that will cause a stir, such as diamond clip-over bra straps that will hold up even the most generous of bosoms.

Ask about the Hillberg & Berk items former Dragons' Den star W. Brett Wilson chose for a partnership deal. Then there's the scandalous No. 2 Poo-Pourri, for people who are too shy to use the bathroom around others. "Take it in your purse to a party." The motto? "Spray before you use the loo and nobody will ever have a clue."

Prices range from $4 to $316. Thiessen and her aunt, Lorraine Penman, dreamed up the business when they were hanging out at the lake.

"We wanted a fun and unique store, with appeal for everyone. We go to the Toronto gift shows, but we also go online and order a lot from here," says Thiessen. "The best part is, I love the customers. We get a lot of regulars."

The store might be sophisticated, but LoLa Boutique is anything but snooty. Brides who don't want stuffy registry items for their weddings run to LoLa Boutique, and Lauren follows them around with a little pad of paper, taking notes.

Their boutique's page is at http://wfp.to/TjS.

BOUTIQUE LA FEMME: Perhaps we could call this store Liquidation, because it always has those big L-signs up filling the windows. Ivan Master laughs, "I know, I know! People call me the Gypsy because I'm always moving. We were at Academy, and at Grant Park, and now we're here until the end of March. If we can't find a larger space by then, we'll rent here for longer."

Master and his 82-year-old mom, Rita, run the place ,and they know their customers very well. Mom is never quitting. "My mother is not a woman who likes to go for coffee," Ivan says. "She likes to get up and go and be part of this business."

Do they ever fight? "Oh, constantly. I say, 'That'll never sell' and it's the first thing to go, and vice versa," he laughs.

They know their customers so well they go out buying for them,. "We do it all the time. See these things from Simon Chang? I have a customer who loves Simon Chang's clothes." So it only makes sense to call her. Sometimes they send out packages of clothes to faithful customers who have moved out of province. "They just mail back the things they don't want."

Luxury-sized ladies know they are in friendly territory at Boutique la Femme. "There was Pennington's and Addition Elle, but we were the first independently-owned store for larger sizes in Winnipeg. We were called Le Grand Femme in 1986. That was just two years after we moved here from England." When they got into a larger space they added regular sizes as well. "Now our clothes run from Size 4 to Size 22. Our customers are about 35 to 65 years old. We sell moderately-priced, exclusive brands for them."

Where do they travel to buy? "We go to Montreal and London -- any excuse to go home. We have family there." Price-wise, Master says, "We'll sell a pair of leggings for $30 and clothing up to $300."

The store is full of funky casual wear, classics and some off-beat things. "We buy brands from Turkey, the Far East -- along with Canadian designers."

TUXEDO VILLAGE FAMILY RESTAURANT: People come from all across the city to try the Village Burger -- two beef patties and chile, with every topping you can imagine.

The burger is very tall and hard to get in your mouth. "Mostly guys order it," says Gio Ignatios, a part of the family that owns this popular Greek restaurant. Asked for other favourites, he says, "Definitely the Athenian Chicken, which is stuffed with mushrooms, peppers and olives and has a mushroom sauce, and next, people love our chicken pita."

Just above the sound of Greek music you can hear chopping from the kitchen. The staff are busy doing fresh prep for dinner. "After a while, when the restaurant fills up, we don't need the music to cover the chopping because it's noisy with people talking."

The family involved in the business includes George Papaioannou, his wife, Vicky, and son, Tom.

"I am George's stepson," Ignatios says, just as more customers pour through the door looking for a table. We take a picture beside the wall the family created themselves, with Greek gods and goddesses on top. "I think that's Aphrodite and two Apollos," he grins.

Most patrons are from the neighborhood -- Tuxedo, Charleswood, River Heights, Linden Woods, but some people come from as far away as Garden City. It's 5:30 p.m. at this point and the restaurant, done up in warm colours and a touch of Grecian Blue, is filling up fast. "Ee-fare-ees-toh," (thank you) I say in my best Greek. Nobody hears me.

Another happy, noisy night is in full swing at Tuxedo Village.

Maureen Scurfield is a happy short-burst shopper, totally satisfied by funky shops and good food.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2014 A1

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