Archive for June, 2013
By Jamie Swift
“Just so you know,” offers Al Chater as he hands over another complementary turkey-bacon burger, “We do sell ‘em, too.”
The Pig and Olive’s burgers were moving fast. Free food generally attracts a crowd. And DARN’s most recent swarm reflected this simple fact of life. Things were humming.
The Wellington Street celebration brought well over a hundred people – active DARN supporters and casual passers-by – to the block between Queen and Barrack Streets where two new business sprouted up this past spring. A Liquid Nutrition juice bar franchise opened a few days after Alan and Danielle Chater’s Bath Road butcher shop took root downtown.
City centre carnivores have not had a non-supermarket outlet since the Block and Cleaver closed its Market Square doors a couple of years back. “Aussie Al,” as he’s sometimes known (they sell “outback steaks”), had worked at John’s Deli and the now-shuttered Hind Quarter (it’s now a pawn shop) before starting the Bath Road butcher shop with Danielle.
The couple met at the former A&P, where Al was moonlighting.
“She made the moves on me,” he grins, handing over another burger.
“Hardly,” replies Danielle with a knowing roll of the eyes as she works the cash while keeping an eye on her son. He’s in top gear because of the swarm of activity in the parents’ new store. The couple doubled their usual mid-week business during the swarm.
Things get even busier as local musician Roger James arrives, strumming his banjo. He’s followed by Virg Allegrini from Pasta Genova down the block. The Italian food store, an independent downtown anchor for twenty-five years now, has been cooking the Pig and Olive burgers. The tiny, in-store kitchen normally produces fresh pasta, sauces, foccacia and, on Fridays, those irresistible cheese sticks. Their foccacia sandwiches are among the best in town.
Mara Fiormanti, chief pasta maker, is doing a steady trade in mini-sandwiches that Pasta Genova has provided to support the DARN swarm. Someone has chalked a sign on the sidewalk in front of Mara’s table. “DARN good food.”
One of the dozens of children, their faces painted by DARN’s Rae Brackenbury down in front of the Anna Lane office, is busy filling in the Os in “good food.”
Mara says she’s worried about the number of empty downtown stores, an anxiety reflected by a customer who claims that there haven’t been this many since she came to town just before Pasta Genova opened in 1988. The popular spot will be celebrating their 25th birthday July 13, coinciding as usual with the buskers’ festival. There will be birthday cake and grilled sausages, made in-store.
Mara and Virg’s parents left Genoa (hence the store’s name) in 1951, part of a group that arrived in Kingston together. Unlike most of the postwar wave of Italian country folk, Mara and Virg’s father was a skilled tradesman.
“I’ve known Robbie for years,” smiles Mara when I mention that my longtime barber Robert Castelvetri family also hales from the old Italian port city. “His dad and my dad both got jobs at the locomotive works.” (the chatty Rob Castelvetri’s Johnson Street salon is right around the corner from the Block D apartment complex where the waterfront Canadian Locomotive Company employed his father.)
DARN’s Wellington Street “block party” swarm was the first to support more than one independent business.
The idea is twofold. To raise awareness that Kingston’s downtown, though successful compared to so many other city centres, is threatened by store closures and a retail uniformity featuring a preponderance of bars, cafes, restaurants and corporate chains. And to let people know about all those small, independent businesses that keep going. Both the Pig and Olive and Pasta Genova are supporters of the local food movement.
DARN’s Wellington Street block party was also supported by Hillary’s dry cleaning where people got a chance at free cleaning. The energetic reflexologist Sue Livesay of Wellington Acupuncture and Massage offered free foot massages. And the Anna Lane condominium was a key swarm backer. Its sales office at Wellington and Barrack is a block down from the construction site where their building is fast rising from the desolate hole that long graced the corner of Queen and Bagot. “Downtown – no finer place” boasts the Options for Homes developer.
Finally, a new downtown apartment building that doesn’t wall off the lakefront. (for info on the June 23 Shoreline Shuffle, see wateraccessgroup.weebly.com). Apparently Anna Lane units are selling steadily.
Liquid Nutrition’s marketing hype has it that if you enter the juice bar you’ll get “a sudden rush of health and happiness.”
Perhaps slightly overblown. But the sentiment is what has prompted the whole DARN initiative. Downtown living certainly is good for “body and soul.” Maybe the ghost of tenorman Coleman Hawkins will grace DARN’s next swarm and treat us to the old jazz standard.