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March 01, 2009

Charming Cochrane: boutique shopping, no hard sell

Calgary’s westerly neighbour a treasure trove of boutique shopping without the hard sell.

Kimberley Luu

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If you’re like me, you’ve driven aimlessly around downtown, 17th Avenue or, dare I say it, a mall parking lot in search of a spot, only to give up in frustration and park miles away.

For those who have discovered Cochrane’s shopping strip on 1st Street West, the mere idea of searching for parking is ludicrous. The street allows for angled parking in front of shops and parking across the street absolutely free. Yes, even weekdays before 6 p.m.

But Cochrane is more than just fantastic parking. Once you poke your head into any boutique you’ll find something many Calgarians have long forgotten: friendly customer service. Carol Anaka, a local resident for 31 years, says she enjoys the slower-paced lifestyle and safety that Cochrane offers, especially on the shopping scene. No pushy sales people—just casual and helpful service.

One example of such a store is Stitching Corner by NyGaBe, owned by Gail Jones and Betty Whitford. A greeting and an offer to help find specific items seems just the norm in this shop. Upon closer inspection of the Stitching Corner, it’s apparent the store is no tiny corner at all; as it is filled with specialty needlework supplies from threads and beads to 75 cross-stitching patterns. Jones notes needlework stores are few and far between so they see a very loyal following. Tourists who return year round to replenish their supplies quickly become clients. And if you’re worried about your technique, fear not, as Jones and Whitford can teach you how or offer advice on specific projects.

Still, if needlework is not for you, consider the many other shops available on the strip. A few doors down Anything Grows Home showcases an eclectic collection of home décor with unique frames, clocks, and furniture, comparable to Chintz & Company but with more affordable prices. Dawn Piche, sales associate, attributes their “buyer’s focus” concept for their success. By getting customers involved and using their feedback on the store’s product, Piche says “Customers are never outsiders here.” For Piche the no-pressure sales, friendly atmosphere and small-town appeal (“everybody knows everybody else”) are reasons enough to shop in Cochrane, let alone the distinctive store specialties.

Neighbouring Anything Grows Home is Pots ’n Peppers, owned by Claire Breeze. When Breeze bought out the store in August 2004, Pots ’n Peppers became an exclusively kitchen boutique. The store features wine glasses, cookbooks, dishware, aprons, placemats, and essentially anything and everything kitchen related. Brands like Cuisinart, Krups, and Le Creuset litter the shelves. While a kitchen boutique is common in Calgary, Breeze says Calgarians are still a large part of the client base. “It’s a different pace here. We are not a big box store or in a crowded mall. If you want help, we’ll help you.” Customers seeking knowledgeable staff will find just that in Pots ’n Peppers. But even non-cooks like me will not be disappointed with the endless gift ideas. One example would be the Fred and Friends Yellow Pages booster seat, made with foam for just $25, which is both adorable and practical.

The next store over also has many gift ideas but their specialty is antiques. While new is nice, antiques are appealing because of their rarity. Old & Crafty is the only shop in Cochrane selling antiques. Although the store is looking a bit bare, Lili Knipple, employee at Old & Crafty for eight years, assures me by the time this magazine hits the stands their store will be stocked full of “new” antiques. The wide range of giftware from teapots and journals to soy candles and greeting cards will continue to be sold. Old & Crafty has been in business 30 years and shares its space with Westlands Art Gallery.
Another “double duty” shop is Just For You Flowers and More. Owner Judy Buckland says the store is a mixture of everything, including distinct home décor, hats and scarves, jewelry and, of course, flowers. “The flowers are the fun part,” says Buckland. “They’re accessories to everyday life.” But above all, she hopes her clients visit because of the customer service that Just For You Flowers and More offers. “I want to get to know my clients and remember what pieces they bought so I can pick out what would go perfect with it,” making the buying experience more personal. In store for 2009, Buckland says, will be a continuation of what they’re already doing; getting diverse product that will complement whatever you already own.

All this shopping might make you hungry and while Cochrane has an array of restaurants, it’s the famous dessert that has put this small town on the map. MacKay’s Cochrane Ice Cream has been doing business for 60 years but the legendary treats are still made in small batches by hand using the best possible ingredients, according to Rhona MacKay, co-owner with sister Robyn. The ice cream is made locally with 100 per cent cream from Alberta cows. Though competition for the shop comes in many forms within the food service business, MacKay says what sets them apart is the tradition of good quality, consistent service and affordability. Of course new clientele is always welcome but MacKay says, “We enjoy the Cochrane clientele because not only are they customers but we have probably grown up with them, or our children have. Growing up in a small town makes for one big huge family and we love being involved in all types of activities, with all types of people.”

Once you’re refreshed and have finished walking the 1st Street strip it doesn’t mean that the fun stops there. Just off 1st Street on 5th Avenue West lies Grand Saddlery & Western Wear, a one-of-a-kind family business that originally began in 1968 with several stores in Calgary. Owned and operated by Denise Dalziel, the only outlet left standing is in Cochrane as its location on the trail to Banff and in close proximity to the many ranches in the area makes perfect business sense. The store, transformed from a house, enables Dalziel to control overhead costs while offering a cosier setting for customers to shop. “With the rooms all offering different merchandise, from a boot room to a tack room and our front entrance that offers more house and lifestyles such as western dinnerware, it creates a real homey atmosphere,” she says. Dalziel loves getting to know her clients on a first name basis—a rare finding in Calgary’s western chains. 2009 brings Grand Saddlery & Western Wear a new supplier of western art at affordable prices and beautiful western area rugs.

Twisted Log, a locally made furniture and home décor shop, is another hop, skip and a jump away. Located 15 kilometres west of Cochrane, Twisted Log stands out from other furniture stores as their products can be customized to adapt to any style, design and size. Larissa Pitton, owner, says “We work together with local metal artists and carvers that will be able to give to each piece a unique and distinctive character.” For Pitton, her local clients are very inventive people and enjoy the custom-built idea. “Most of our clients from Cochrane and Calgary are outdoor oriented people who enjoy the natural style of our products.” The shop carries hand-crafted products built with pine, fir, cedar, aspen or barn wood as well as local art, paintings, photography and books.

So if you’re on the search for eclectic home décor, locally inspired treats, friendly service and the beloved free parking, just head to Calgary’s small town neighbour, Cochrane, where a smile is genuine, not commission-driven. CL Shop, shop, shop!  cochrane offers great retail therapy

Addie’s and Saffron
420 – 1 Street West
Quilting, knitting and contemporary fine art

Angel Scent Lavender

308 – 3 Street West
“All things lavender”

Artistic Flowers Three
Rockyview Mall, 1 Street West
Fresh and silk arrangements, green and flowering plants, gifts and helium balloons

Ashwoods Home Décor
110 – 2 Avenue West
Furniture, bedding, antiques and accessories

Bentley’s Books
Cochrane Towne Square
New & used books, music, videos

Birdie’s Nest
#1, 122 Railway Street

The Clothesline
Sheridan Mall, 118 Centre Avenue
Thrift store

Edge Sports
Suite 2004, 120 – 5 Avenue West
Hockey, lacrosse, soccer, baseball, running, team apparel

Great Garb Boutique
312 – 1 Street West
Fashion boutique

Gadabout Garb
320 – 1 Street West
Fashion boutique (casual)

The Heavenly Outhouse
312 – 1 Street West
Home and bath décor, candles, luxury bath products, gifts and books

High Country Picture Framing & Art Gallery
123 – 2 Avenue West
Framing and art gallery

Paintbox Artist Supplies & Gift Gallery
123 – 2nd Avenue West
Art supplies and gifts (journals, candles, etc)

Phantom’s Music
111 – 2 Avenue West

The Purple Pear Kid’s Consignment Boutique
Bay #3, 214 Grande Boulevard
Kid’s consignment

320 – 1 Street West
Gifts, gadgets & home décor

Rustica Fine Art Gallery
#4, 123 – 2nd Ave West
Art and sculptures

Studio West Bronze Foundry & Art Gallery
205 – 2 Avenue S.E. (Industrial Park)
Art, bronze, art supplies

Seasons in the Sun by Traditions
222 – 1 Street West
Gifts and home accessories

204 – 1 Street West
Camping and outdoor store

Westlands Bookstore
620 – 2 Street West

Winter Photographics Foto Source
521 – 1 Street West
Photo, cameras, portrait studio, scrapbook supplies and custom framing

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