Do you have friends and relatives coming to town? Want to show the place off and treat them to one-of-a-kind unique places from funky to cosy for fun and last-minute shopping ideas? Here’s my gift to you — hot tips for some of the coolest places to go in our beloved iceberg.
WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD: The Neighbourhood Bookstore & Café at 898 Westminster Ave. (204-772-0509) is experiencing a joyful reunion with grateful customers pushing through the door for hugs and visits, coffee and cakes. Owner Bill Fugler can serve a small menu again after getting an exemption from the city about installing an expensive grease trap.
The place had been closed down for months in a bureaucratic battle and Fugler was finally able to open three weeks ago, but couldn’t serve food. That nightmare’s over and now Neighbourhood is starting with cakes and coffee as he saves up money for more food supplies and additional staff.
The Wolseley gang and other fans from far-flung neighbourhoods say they love this cosy used bookstore, with unique new board games to play and a variety of people reading, studying and holding hands across the tables. Says Fugler, looking at his customers: "I am overjoyed to be open again and relieved and a little scared after what happened. I worry because there was no need for it in the first place."
People are rushing back to buy holiday gifts of books and board games, which are Fugler’s specialty. Games are a lifesaver when different generations of relatives need to find a way to bond. Fugler’s top game suggestions this year are 7 Wonders, Above and Below, Shadows and Brimstone, Dead of Winter, Tsuro and Takenoko.
"Thumbs up! I felt like the son of a motherless goat when they were closed," says regular Neil Dainio. Adds Michael Thiessen, beaming at a back table, "You can come and go, it’s beautiful and warm and it’s like sitting in your living room. This is a community. You don’t even have to buy a book."
YOUR OWN NEW YEAR’S EVE BLAST: Red Bomb Fireworks at 1838 Portage Ave., (204-885-2662) is a 2016 addition to Winnipeg — big, shiny and silver, with a red cherry bomb sign. The store’s an offshoot of Red Bomb in Selkirk. Store manager Amber Proutt and I recently talked about "cakes," where you light one fuse and multiple fireworks strapped together light each other in sequence. Proutt says to look for The Devil’s Own cake that has a detonator of 100 shots. The big cake goes for $175.
Red Bomb also sells inexpensive single fireworks, from $6 florals to $37 barrages. Says Proutt: "Right now sales are mostly for New Year’s, but some people give them in gift exchanges."
CHOCOHOLICS ALERT: Remember the movie Chocolat, starring Juliette Binoche, where chocolate was a kind of magical food that was good for your health and, in some cases, your sex life? Well, Winnipeg’s first cocoa beans-roasting and chocolate bar shop, Aschenti, opens this week on Corydon Avenue near Arbuthnot Street. They will custom-make advance orders and have them ready in four days. They start by roasting the cocoa beans behind their glassed-in chocolate bar-making studio.
Owners Christian and Christelle Mekoh were both born in Cameroon and source their beans from several cocoa tree farms in the African country. They are building their recipe repertoire up to to 10 specialty bars, the first being one that includes 42 per cent cocoa, vanilla beans and olive oil. A 70 per cent chocolate bar "for health purposes" is made from only two ingredients — roasted cocoa beans and organic cane sugar.
"Usually there a big list of other ingredients," says Christelle. "Now you really discover chocolate."
The pair have a globe-trotting love story. Christelle was born in Cameroon but grew up in Charlottetown, Christian travelled from Cameroon to Belgium to go to university where he met Christelle, who was on holiday.
Aschenti refers to the first place in Africa where the slaves were forced to grow and harvest cocoa by Europeans who discovered the cocoa tree in South America and Mexico.
West African countries such as Cameroon have similar land and conditions to South America and Mexico.
"We hope our store will help the people we know in Cameroon to improve the quality of their lives, and we’re teaching them sustainable agriculture — no use of pesticides," Christian says. "It’s money that allows them to send their kids to school and we know them personally."
HUMBLE HUMBOLDT’S: Kris and Will Kurtz, who have owned Humboldt’s Legacy for 28 years in a half-dozen Winnipeg locations as well as in Toronto, have settled in at 167 Lilac St. (204-772-1404), and people are responding to this love-the-earth store created by two hippie kids in love.
They met at an anti-nuclear march in Europe, and discovered a workable way to make a difference. Humboldt’s is a general store with clothing, shawls and blankets, skin-care products, toys and puzzles, and a food and cleaning-supplies section that even has a freezer of organic meat (although Kris is vegetarian.)
WHODUNIT? Next door, at 165 Lilac St., is Whodunit Mystery Bookstore (204-284-9100), where you can buy new or used mystery books, sit in comfy chairs and talk to the owners, the Bumsted family, who, between them, have read books by all the authors in the store.
They each have tips for gifts: Michael Bumsted recommends Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters. His mother, Wendy, enjoys missing-person stories such as Missing Presumed by Susie Steiner and Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. Michael’s dad Jack Bumsted’s favourite is Michael Connelly’s The Crossing, the 20th book in the Harry Bosch series.
Got tips for Scene & Heard? Cool things happening in your world? Email Maureen at email@example.com.