From door-closing public health restrictions to the monopoly of online retailers such as Amazon, the threats to local business during a global pandemic are numerous and come from all directions. Whether they are longtime family operations or new dreams just realized, businesses of all stripes have had to adapt, adjust and try to survive.
That’s why it’s especially important, this year, to invest your holiday shopping money back into the local economy — and the Free Press Arts & Life team is here to help. We’ve carefully chosen a list of Winnipeg shops and makers offering treasures for everyone on your list, and talked with business owners as they head into this unprecedented season. That’s the beauty of shopping local: you can get to know the actual people you’re supporting.
Don’t wait to do your shopping, however. As one maker told us, "beautiful things take time," so place your orders early to ensure the holiday season will be merry and bright for everyone.
Vantage Vintage Boutique
210-70 Albert St.
There’s something comforting about a quality piece of vintage clothing in 2020: it’s been made to last, it’s sustainable, and despite everything, it’s survived.
The Exchange District’s Vantage Vintage Boutique is filled with true vintage pieces that have survived at least 40 years — coats, skirts, dresses, blouses, shirts, suits, blankets and much more — all waiting for their next owners.
"Everything you see in malls nowadays is styled after vintage," says Joshua Alderson, who co-owns the eclectic shop with Michael Duchon. "How cool is it to own the original instead?"
The shop began three years ago as a side hustle, but in 2018 became a full-time job for Alderson and Duchon, who started thrifting as a teenager as a way to stand out. "Not only was I able to acquire unique styles, but I immediately understood the quality," he says. It’s something you can feel.
"We look for unique, one-of-a-kind, wearable clothes in optimal condition," Alderson says, adding that they’re still looking to acquire clothing and grow their inventory.
Right now, the shop is operating as a curbside pick-up and online sales enterprise, with a new website up and running to help cover the loss in foot traffic and the slowdown of film and theatre production. "(Online shopping) is essentially the only thing that’s keeping us afloat right now," Duchon says.
Many items are posted to the store’s Instagram (@vantagevintagebtq) and on the website, but if customers are looking for specific styles or items they don’t see, they should message the shop to see if they have it, Alderson says. Getting every piece online takes time.
Gift certificates make a great present for vintage lovers too, Duchon says, and can be used in online transactions or in future ones in-store.
"A lot of small business owners like us shop and support other small businesses," he says. "When you buy from someone like us, you’re supporting a plethora of other businesses like ours."
More local clothing
● Commonwealth Manufacturing: The Commonwealth team create some of the finest flannels, oxfords and workshirts around, sourced from high-quality, Japanese fibres. Ethically made in Winnipeg. (www.commonwealthmfg.com)
● North Flag: You can’t get much more local than clothier North Flag, which sells Winnipeg- and Manitoba-inspired shirts, hats, sweaters and accessories. (www.northflag.co)
● Shapes and Feelings: A business born during the pandemic, this online local consignment shop aims to stop fast fashion in its tracks, selling new and gently used clothes at reasonable prices. (www.shapesandfeelings.ca)
— Ben Waldman
FOOD AND DRINK
Spice World of Canada
137 Marion St.
Open for online and limited in-store shopping, curbside pickup and delivery
There’s a lot of flavour packed into Aaron Delos Santos’s small, unassuming store in St. Boniface. Spice World — no relation to the Spice Girls movie of the same name (although both made their debut in 1997) — is a family business focused on flavourful herbs, spices and homemade seasoning blends.
Over the years, Delos Santos has put his own twist on the company started by his parents, Gabriel and Sunshine.
"About 10 years ago we were strictly doing pure spices," Delos Santos says. "There was such a demand for different blends… and I figured since we have all these beautiful flavours in our shop, we might as well make (blends) in house."
The Peg City blend — a smoky, savoury, tangy mixture suitable for seasoning meats and vegetables of all kinds — is his proudest creation to date and one of the shop’s biggest sellers.
"We’re blending that one weekly and we’re probably going through 50 to 100 pounds a week," he says. "It’s one of those master spices you can use on so many dishes… everything except cereal."
The popularity inspired him to dive head first into blend creation and now Spice World carries more than 20 original products. They’re also offering two pre-packaged gift sets over the holidays: a barbecue pack of six rubs and seasonings and a Mexican-inspired collection of chili peppers and vanilla.
Most of Delos Santos’ signature spices got their start in his home kitchen.
"I love to cook… my wife always bugs me that a dish never turns out the same twice because I’m always messing around with different (spice) ratios," he says, referring to his wife Madilyn, who also has a hand in the business.
The pandemic and its impact on the local food industry has drastically affected the wholesale side of the operation.
"What’s been our saving grace is more people cooking at home, so the retail has picked up a little bit," Delos Santos says. "People have been really going out of their way to support local and we’re super-appreciative."
Spice World is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
More local food and drink
● Shrugging Doctor Beverage Company: Pick up a bottle of Made-in-Manitoba wine, cider, sangria or mead for the booze aficionado on your list. The business also recently launched a wine subscription service, which features a bevy of local wines and drinks delivered twice per year. (shrugdoc.com)
● Black Market Provisions: This cute-as-a-button general store in South Osborne has been a local food booster since opening in 2019. The shop is offering a wide selection of curated holiday gift boxes, including a foodie and cocktail connoisseur set, that can be picked up at the shop or sent directly to your friend or loved one. (blackmarketwpg.com)
● D.A. Niels Gourmet Kitchenware: With all the quarantine cooking that’s been going on, fancy new cookware will be a welcome gift this holiday. D.A. Niels is located on Berry Street in St. James and while the website is currently under construction, orders can be placed over the phone or via email. (danielsgourmetkitchenware.ca, 204-953-2345)
● Restaurant gift cards: Winnipeg’s food and beverage industry has been hamstrung by a second wave of restrictions. Consider supporting your favourite local restaurant or taproom by purchasing a gift card directly from the establishment.
— Eva Wasney
34-845 Dakota St.
Open for online shopping, curbside pickup and delivery
In pandemic times, we can all use a little comfort. For a child, that comfort can take the form of a cuddly doll, which is proving to be a popular item at Toad Hall Toys.
For older kids and adults, it can take the form of things that pass quarantine time in enjoyable and creative ways.
That happens to be the stock-in-trade of Hobby Sense, a relatively new store in St. Vital — it opened in 2017 — that sells puzzles and cross-stitch kits, but mainly models. And despite the lockdown, the stuff is flying off the shelves since the Dakota Street store accommodates both shipping and curbside pickup.
The jigsaw puzzles are going especially fast, says store owner Igor Lukianovsky, who moved to Winnipeg from Ukraine in 2015.
"In the beginning of last week, I had something like 500 puzzles and now I have less than 100," Lukianovsky says, adding that he ships not just in Winnipeg but all over Canada.
But he still has thousands of models, he says, the primary attraction of Hobby Sense. Many of the models are of a military nature, such as scale models of fighter jets, battleships or tanks. During the holiday season, Lukianovsky sees more interest in models that don’t have a connection to war — "civilian models," as he calls them.
"I have hundreds of cars and a very limited selection of civilian airplanes and a very limited selection of ships, and all the rest are related to military."
Like many local toy stores, Lukianovsky is extremely busy keeping up with pre-Christmas demand.
"I was here 18 hours the other day, just packing (shipments)," he says. "People are stuck all over Canada, and not a lot of hobby stores have a website, and I do (hobbysense.ca). On Monday, I sent out 56 boxes, which is a lot. And every box, you probably have more than one item or even more than two items."
More local toys and diversions
● Toad Hall Toys: For kids and parents both, it would be a crying shame if this retail treasure in the Exchange District were to shutter its old-timey doors. But the store’s website says it is "happily overwhelmed" with orders coming in. Owner Kari England confirms the city has stepped up to fill the void that threatened when in-store shopping was prohibited earlier this month. But she also asks for patience, as safely preparing and shipping product is more time-consuming than the usual in-store transaction. Open for online shopping, curbside pickup at 54 Arthur St. and $5 delivery within Winnipeg city limits. (www.toadhalltoys.ca)
● Kite and Kaboodle: These two Winnipeg stores — located at Johnson Terminal at The Forks and St. Vital Centre — are likewise joyfully busy filling phone orders through their online catalogue, a great source of puzzles, games, plush toys and an especially strong stock of educational toys. (kiteandkaboodle.com)
— Randall King
Hello Darling Co.
While masks may have the market cornered as the hottest accessory of 2020, headbands place a very close second.
Miriam Delos Santos has been handcrafting statement headpieces under the banner Hello Darling Co. for four years, but her conversation-starting creations have taken on new resonance during a time when many people are only getting ready from the neck up for Zoom calls.
"We’re all living kind of this online life — like we’re all little Sims characters," she says with a laugh. "It’s just something so small that can give you a little bit of joy. It’s almost like retail self-care in a way. You buy a headband, and then it’s not just a headband, you need to put the makeup with it. And then you need to do the hair. And then you need to post it. Or you went went to the grocery store and someone says, ‘Oh, I love your headband.’ It’s all those little things that kind of remind you, ‘Oh, there’s still fun in the world. There’s still colour and excitement.’"
Delos Santos, 39, left the corporate world to pursue Hello Darling Co. full-time in 2019; along with six other makers who are also mothers, she opened a pop-up shop called Mothership last summer. While she started out making whimsical headbands for her young daughter, headwear and accessories for grown-ups has been her main focus for the past year, as has cultivating a presence on social media since craft markets and sales — she used to do 13 a year — were mostly wiped out, owing to the pandemic.
All pieces are designed and handmade by Delos Santos — who just happens to be the sister of Spice World’s Aaron Delos Santos — using carefully selected fabric, often deadstock and remnants to promote sustainability. It’s been a joyful creative expression for her, too.
"I started off pretty safe, just like the padded Blair headband that has been popular; a lot of ‘60s and ‘70s kind of looks," she says. "But then I started making them a little bigger."
Indeed, Hello Darling Co. headpieces are bold — think plush velvet headwraps with dramatic topknots or bands topped with a riot of neon pom-poms — which can spark some mild anxiety from would-be wearers about whether they can pull them off. To that end, Delos Santos provides helpful how-to-wear tutorials on her Instagram page (@hello_darling_co) but mostly, she says, you just gotta commit.
"There’s no wading in — it’s a deep dive," she laughs. "I don’t really do a ‘beginner’ headband anymore. It’s just like, commit or don’t. It’s pretty bossy."
More local makers
● Winnipeg North of Fargo: Screenprinted nostalgia. Roy Liang’s Winnipeg- and Manitoba-inspired tea towels, coin purses, magnets, pillows and ornaments are a favourite of craft sales and make for local souvenirs that are actually cool. (etsy.com/ca/shop/winnipegnorthoffargo)
● Poppy Joy Pompoms: They say money can’t buy happiness, but Dionne Friesen’s pompom creations are pure joy. And, as it happens, she’s unveiling a collection of wreaths, garlands and ornaments on Dec. 5 as part of a daylong online event called Petit Magasin à la Maison, which will feature 10 other local makers. Follow the hashtag #PetitMagasinWPG on Instagram to check it out. (poppyjoypompoms.bigcartel.com)
● Luckygirl Pop Up Shop: Looking for another one-shop stop? You’re in luck. One of Winnipeg’s most-loved markets is going virtual this year. Dec. 1-7, Luckygirl will be hosting an online popup where you’ll be able to shop from more than 100 different local vendors. (luckygirl.ca)
— Jen Zoratti
McNally Robinson Booksellers
Grant Park Shopping Centre, 1120 Grant Ave.; 204-475-0483,
With in-person foot traffic nixed from McNally Robinson Booksellers’ sprawling Grant Park storefront, co-owner Chris Hall and his team have pivoted to online orders in the hopes of getting the latest titles into shoppers’ hands before the holidays.
A typical day for Hall begins around 6 a.m., when he fires up his computer at home and begins poring through the previous day’s orders. McNally Robinson is currently processing around 300 orders daily; instead of being crowded with holiday shoppers, the store’s aisles are littered with easily accessible boxes of bestselling titles, puzzles and more as employees buzz about pulling orders for customers both locally and beyond.
The lessons learned from the initial spring lockdown have helped Hall and company cope with the seasonal onslaught this time around. "People are Christmas shopping, so the orders are bigger, and they’re more numerous," says Hall. "It’s more intense than the spring, but we’re managing better, so we’re able to handle more."
Currently McNally Robinson orders are taking around seven days to fill, unless the requested items are in stock and customers in Winnipeg are able to do a curbside pickup at the Grant Park location. (The location at The Forks Market is currently closed.) "We’re intercepting local pickups and dealing with them as fast as we can — if you order three books and all three are on hand, we grab them and get them out the door the next day or the day after," says Hall. "If you order and want it shipped in Winnipeg or anywhere else, you’re looking at seven days."
There’s a good reason for that delay. "We’re answering the phones, picking the books, processing the sales, and then people are phoning to pick up books at the front door," Hall explains. "There’s a lot of labour to this — it’s not an automated warehouse like some of our competitors have."
In addition to the national and international bestsellers — Barack Obama’s memoir A Promised Land, Souvankham Thammavongsa’s Giller Prize-winning collection How to Pronounce Knife and all manner of thrillers — local books are selling quite briskly. Christine Hanlon’s coffee-table volume Old Winnipeg, prolific Winnipeg author David A. Robertson’s many recent titles, Andrew Unger’s debut novel Once Removed and Geoff Kirbyson’s Broken Ribs and Popcorn, about the 1980s-era Jets, are all moving major units.
In an attempt to replicate the experience of wandering through the store and browsing for books, McNally Robinson has created a section on the website called "Books & Gifts of the Season," where shoppers can find popular titles, holiday-themed books, accessories and more. "If you want to replicate walking through the store, you come to this page — you can see Christmas books, discounted titles, true stories, books for babies, kids, teens, cookbooks and more," Hall says.
And while business is brisk, sales are still a fraction of what they’d normally be at this time of year. "The books that are selling best would probably be selling twice as much right now," Hall says. "We’re working twice as hard for half the revenue."
More local book options
● Whodunit Mystery Bookstore: While the cosy Lilac Street bookstore focuses primarily on thrillers and suspense books, Whodunit, which opened in 1994, has a solid selection of non-mystery books, both fiction and non-fiction, available to order online or by phone at 204-284-9100 for pickup or delivery. (whodunitbooks.ca)
● Burton Lysecki Books: A longtime South Osborne staple, Burton Lysecki has tens of thousands of used books available, including hard-to-find titles. And while you can’t dig through the reams of books in person, the store’s sprawling inventory is available to search online. Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Call 204-284-4546 and they’ll scour their shelves. (lysecki.com)
● Globosapiens: The website of this St. James used bookstore, located in a Portage Avenue strip mall, doesn’t feature a hard-and-fast online inventory; rather, Globosapiens’ online presence includes photos of stacks of recently acquired titles. See one you want, or looking for something in particular? Click "Request a Book!" on the site and cross your fingers. Cash only. (globosapiens.ca)
— Ben Sigurdson
750 Pembina Hwy., 650 Raleigh St; 204-453-7437 (Pembina)
Gerald Haasbeek saw in the spring how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the two outlets of Royal Sports he owns in the city.
The shops focus on hockey equipment — it’s also big into snowboarding gear and winterwear — and he knew if the restrictions on youth leagues and teams that happened in March were in place again at the start of the 2020-21 season, there would be a problem.
He also saw the way Manitobans took to the outdoors in the summer to escape the isolation from the pandemic’s restrictions on travel, and figured Winnipeggers would still find a way to take part in one of Canada’s national sports.
"There are a lot of outdoor rinks being constructed, so we’re selling a lot of hockey nets," Haasbeek says. "We’re still selling some sticks because some people are playing in their basements or in the garage or the driveway."
Royal Sports, which began in 1974 and has locations at 750 Pembina Hwy., and 650 Raleigh St., also sells hockey-training aids so youngsters can work on their stickhandling, passing and shooting while waiting for organized hockey to begin again.
"We still sell the odd piece of equipment, but that’s probably more a Christmas item, now," he says. "Hockey is going to get going at some point, right?"
The stores also focus on winterwear and snowboards, and Haasbeek says youngsters don’t necessarily need a ski hill to work on their flips and grabs. He often sees kids snowboard on the slopes of retention ponds and embankments made by snowplows.
It also has a stock of recreational skates, anticipating a reopening of the skating trails at The Forks and especially on the Red and Assiniboine rivers.
The stores offer curbside pickup and delivery. The main location on Pembina can be reached at 204-453-7437 and its Facebook page displays Black Friday deals at www.facebook.com/royalsports1974/.
More local sporting goods
● Olympia Cycle and Ski: There’s more to winter sports and activities in Winnipeg than lacing on the blades. There are two Olympia Cycle and Ski stores — the shops at 1813 Portage Ave. and 326 St. Mary’s Rd. are separate businesses — but both sell and repair bikes, and offer cross-country ski packages. Cycling took off in the summertime and the trend is expected to continue in the winter. Both stores offer well-known bike brands, from mountain bikes to comfort cruisers. (Contact the Portage store at olympiacycle.com, 204-888-4586; contact the St. Mary’s store at olympia.ca and 204-237-8909)
● White Lion Athletics: For those folks who want to remain active while staying inside, White Lion Athletics (255 Taché Ave.) specializes in home-fitness equipment such as resistance bands, kettle bells, foam rollers, ab rollers, wobble boards, stability balls, exercise mats and fitness wear. White Lion is owned by two certified fitness trainers, Stuart Klassen and DJ Guzda, and also offers fitness workshops and instruction when COVID-19 restrictions allow. (whitelionathletics.com, 204-290-0159)
— Alan Small
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.