Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wolseley's a world apart

It's not just eco-friendly, but people-friendly, too

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Some people call Wolseley "the last enclave of hippiedom in Winnipeg."

Others smirk and call it the Granola Belt.

But people who live in the Wolseley area call it "a real community" and "a small town in the middle of the city."

The heart of its commerce is the grouping of little shops clustered around Evanson Street and Westminster Avenue. There you can find fresh organic food, exotic scent-blending, lightly used clothing, Birkenstocks, custom-made furniture, spiritual and self-help books, eco-friendly cleaning products and more. You couldn't do better shopping at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and these shops are just as casual and friendly.

Plus, everybody's quick to tell you their goods are fair trade.

There is a lot of camaraderie here, too. Shop owners know each other not as rivals, but as supporters of one another.

"The neighbour's fridge broke, so we brought their stuff over here. I know they would have done the same for us," says Emily Stevens at Organic Planet Workers Co-op, one of seven people who run the store on the busy corner. She's talking about their direct competition -- Caulfield's Organic Market.

Other shops at the busy crossroads include Prairie Sky Books, La Parfumerie, Grasslands Woodcraft, Wolseley Wardrobe and The Shoe Doctor.

Shop workers say they love knowing their customers by name. They also get the neighbourhood gossip. Like a small town, lots of people show up on foot. "Some people just stop by to visit," says Colleen Medd, at Humboldt's Legacy.

But it's not all roses at Westminster and Evanson. People constantly complain about the lack of parking.

"But you're always closer here than you would be at IKEA," says Davi Povoledo, owner of Grasslands Woodcraft at 869 Westminster in an old bank building. Stepping in, you find yourself in a small but elegant showroom full of artisan's furniture, which Povoledo builds at another location.

"I come up with a plan with the customer, or they bring me something they saw in a magazine and I custom-make it for them, usually out of hardwood. It's five years now in the old bank location and Povoledo says it's a great area for him because there are so many older houses in the area that suit his furniture.

In the back is a bank vault and a space for luthier Florien Vorreiter. "He makes guitars and other stringed instruments," explains his space-mate. Good vibrations.

"There's always side streets for parking," says Jake Saurette of La Parfumerie, located right at the crossroads. The perfume-blending shop started in Osborne Village in 1993, but owner Michael O'Malley bought the house in 1999. The shop custom- blends scents from 200 ingredients for people who want their own unique perfume. The outer showroom features 21 scents that are sold to 400 shops around the world.

A challenge is getting people to look past the fact La Parfumerie is a converted house. Customers are often shy to enter.

According to owner O'Malley, exchange rates have caused an even bigger problem for him.

"In 2005, the Canadian dollar was at 75 cents, and 80 per cent of our business was American. Now, with the Canadian dollar being on par, we have lost a huge part of that business. It's been murder, it's been tough."

Still, their famous scents and Nothing perfumes, which include Enlighten and Purple Haze, bewitch locals. The perfume Beyond Sex is described as "on the razor edge between ecstasy and bliss."

Saurette says the neighbourhood has gone upscale in recent years.

"There's been a fair bit of gentrification in Wolseley. When houses didn't cost a lot, there were a lot of artists, students, hippies, gays, lesbians and alternative lifestyles. But as house prices went up, a lot more people with families started buying them."

Colleague Bridgette Romero wouldn't want to work anywhere else. "I love this community. It's like coming home, so relaxing and peaceful, a breath of fresh air. People here are family."

Not everybody wants to go to Wolseley, as it has an old reputation of being a place for hippies (old ones and newly minted) and fogging protesters in mosquito season.

"It is stereotypical that people choose sometimes not to shop here for that reason," says Brian Layte, owner of The Shoe Doctor. "In fact, people are missing out on a very unique part of Winnipeg that has a lot of great shops worth checking out."

Layte will fix your favourite shoes or boots at the back -- but he can also sell you beautiful European El Naturalista boots from Spain on special order, plus Birkenstocks and Blundstones. "Our boots generally run from $200 to $300," he says.

"I have El Naturalistas that have lasted for eight years and they still look great and people comment on them," says customer Caroline Thibault.

"Some people come in here asking me if I have vegan boots," laughs Layte, "but no, we have leather."

At Prairie Sky Books, owner Grant Pastuck has held the fort since 1978. The store was hit by arson in 2001, but got back up and running at a neighbouring store within a week and back into the gutted and newly built shop eight months later. "We didn't get bigger after the fire," says staffer Aynsley Anderson, "but it looks like it, because we have a different configuration."

In its current mode, Prairie Sky sells books of a teaching variety, plus spiritual and New Age books. In the display cases, there are 75 kinds of tarot and oracle cards, gemstone and sterling silver jewelry, glass art, crystals, statuary (lots of Buddhist and Hindu figures), incense, toys, yoga mats and crystals. Plus, they offer funky clothing in the back, including the humourous line of socks for men and women called Sock It To Me.

Over at Humboldt's Legacy, joined to Caulfield's Organic Market, with its famous eco-friendly cleansers, sales clerk Medd says the store belongs to Kris and Willie Kurtz and was opened in half the existing space in 1985. Now they've expanded and, between the two shops, they sell ethically made and fair-trade bedding, clothing, shoes, paper products, food, drinks, beauty products and all-natural cleaning products that pull customers in from all over Manitoba.

Rachel Jehn of Wolseley Wardrobe is the third owner of the second-hand clothing consignment store, and she sells everything "from Gucci to Garbage." Jehn says she loves being part of peoples' lives.

"A kid needs nice shoes for a Christmas concert, and you get to help.

"We also make a lot of donations of clothing we can't sell, giving it to people in need. Because of our being a consignment store, people talk when they come in with bags of clothes to sell. We get to know them and really feel part of this great community."

maureen.scurfield@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 13, 2013 A1

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