Friday, August 28, 2015

Touring Niagara, and stopping in Thorold for a visit

Since I have had a bit of unscheduled time off this summer, I have spent some of my time away from my computer conducting job searches to search out some pleasure right here in Niagara.  Now, when I say pleasure, don't worry, I am not heading down that dark road your mother probably never told you about...

A couple of times this summer I landed in one of my favourite parts of Niagara, downtown Thorold.  In fact, I wrote about Thorold back in the spring and how impressive the newly-updated downtown storefronts are looking.  But it was still pretty cold back then and I didn't linger too much, but I have this summer, and there is plenty to linger over all around the city of Thorold.

So here are the results of my meandering through the heart of the city and the outer environs, enjoying the old, the new, the tried and true...

When you head into downtown Thorold, Ground Zero for many of us is Henderson's Pharmasave on Front Street.  John and Cathy Henderson have kept the faith all these years and were probably the first to update the facade of their pharmacy back in the 80s, setting the bar high for the rest of the downtown merchants.  They've kept up with the times on the inside, too, but the staff is just as friendly and welcoming as ever, and yes, they usually remember your name, too.

Not far from Henderson's is a new building going up that will house a medical practice on the main floor, I believe, and modern apartments upstairs.  It is rare to find a new development of this type in a downtown, but this one is nearing completion and looking pretty impressive.  A little further up that side of Front Street you'll find Nevaeh Kids Spa, which appears to be a rather novel idea.

If you take a few steps in the other direction on Front Street, you pass by Gypsy Alley, Elio's Foot Care Centre and Harry's New York Bar, and at the corner notice the equally sharp facade of the Panini Cafe.  This local hangout is getting their share of good press lately, and although I have not been inside yet, I hope to soon.  I've heard plenty of good things about both the food and the service there.

Head further down Front Street and cross to the other side and the first thing you will notice is the nicely updated facade of another favourite local eatery, Cosmo's Diner.  I have been to Cosmo's many times over the years, and it was a favourite of my Dad's when we would go out for lunch on a Saturday afternoon years ago.

Cosmo's specializes in breakfast and lunch, with both sort of merging on the menu.  A long time favourite recommended to me years ago was the Eggs Benedict, and it is still worth the trip for eggs benny done right.

A few steps south of Cosmo's Diner and you are stopped dead in your tracks and your jaw drops at the new transformation of the venerable post office building.  Long empty, the property was purchased a while ago by upscale designer and retailer Shannon Passero, who needed more space for her growing business than the original location in the old firehall provided.  So she and her husband lavished time and money on the building, making sure everything was done just right.

From the custom-designed art-deco iron railing up the stairs to the stylish sign above the door, you know entering this building will be an adventure.  Yes, I did saunter in one Saturday afternoon recently, watching a busy store in full flight, teeming with happy customers.  Shannon has also added art on the walls, including at the moment some fine work by local photographic artist and friend of mine, Robin McPherson.  I viewed the art this weekend, in fact, and it is impressive, and all for sale.

The official grand opening of Shannon Passero's new digs was this week, and although I was not able to attend, it was apparently quite the splashy event in downtown Thorold.

Right next door to Shannon's new digs is a storefront I have long admired, the Front Variety store hiding behind shelves upon shelves of fresh flowers, hanging baskets and more.  I ventured inside and found out the floral display is the handiwork of the shopkeeper's mother and they have always had flowers for sale out front since they opened the shop 14 years ago.  Mums are proliferating out front as we speak.

There are some empty storefronts on this side of the street at the moment, most notably the former Home Hardware location, but I am told plans are in the works for more development along this stretch of Front Street.

Beyond here you come across a stretch of lovingly-restored storefronts, in particular the old Quebec Bank building, now home to Studio 76 Interior Designs.  The sign is an eye-catching combination of blue background and gold lettering.

Next to the old Quebec Bank building you find the small Bridal Lane, and I found myself wondering just how many brides and grooms had their pictures taken in this small area over the years.

Next you find a number of lovely storefronts housing several newer businesses, all of whom chose downtown Thorold for their new home because of the vibe on the street and more affordable rents.  There's On The Front Cafe & Eatery and The Pie Man, for example, the latter where you can pick up sweet and savoury pies of every description.

Two of the newer businesses in this block I found particularly interesting.  One, the Honey Bee Store is the second location for this business, the first still thriving on West Street in Port Colborne.  As I mentioned in March, the Honey Bee Store has a wide selection of honey varieties on display, all of which you can sample.  There's lots more, too, including maple syrup, teas and so on.

I lingered for quite some time in Figg Street Co., a gift store specializing in paper goods and related items.  Here you will find gift wrap paper unlike any you've ever seen before and which I suspect you would never want to fold and tape, let alone rip apart to expose a gift.  This paper almost IS the gift!

Need a card?  Lots of great greeting cards here, including some exquisite hand-made designs you'll never find in your neighbourhood dollar store.

That's the whole idea behind the shop, according to proprietor Antoinette D'Angelo, who showed me around the store recently.  You find special gifts here; more expensive yes, but top quality at fair prices.  I never even knew you could purchase fine lead pencils from England, for example, but Antoinette has them in her shop.

Many items are locally sourced, but others come from all over the globe.  I would venture a guess you won't see many of these items in another local shop in Niagara.

Nearby is the storefront for Knyvettism, another local shop with a lovely look and feel, but unfortunately they have decided to close down the store in the near future, I'm told, and concentrate instead on their burgeoning online business.

Once I left the downtown area proper, I ventured into some of my favourite tried-and-true businesses that in their own way have defined what makes Thorold unique.  I visited my friends Glen and Ann, who run Clarkson Cycle & Sports, a going concern for many years at the corner of Pine and Richmond Streets, and then ventured further down Richmond to the iconic Big Red Markets.  Their local produce is almost as much a draw as their BBQ-ready meats available year-round.  I have never been here when it isn't busy, so they are certainly doing something right.

I can't leave Thorold without visiting the newly-renovated Riganelli's Bakery on Ormond Street.  I have always enjoyed the bread here, including the Calabrese loaves they used to bake but no longer do, but the star attraction now is really the location itself.  That dated storefront is no more; in its place a stylish new facade with tables and chairs out front.

When I visited recently the staff were obviously proud of the new look, and also the fact nothing has changed with their baking.  It is still a great value after all these years.

After Riganelli's I headed down the escarpment into St. Catharines, happy with the new places I have discovered in Thorold, and happier still some of my old favourites are still there and thriving.

Have you visited Thorold lately?  You might be surprised by what you find!

August 28th, 2015.

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