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Buzzing Ellis Street

It’s Wednesday, and it’s my day off, and Christmas is around the bend, and life is hectic, and tonight is book club night!

We are reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, which, I feel, can be succinctly summed up as, religion is foolish, and science is lethal. Also which, I tell the man who picked the book, may have us all going to hell for reading it — with its Bible-bashing meta-references  and allusions — over the Christmas season. When I say this, I think I am being funny. He looks mildly concerned.

Anyway, I started reading the book on Tuesday night, knowing I had the day off and intending to finish while I baked things. Except, it was like Grand Central Station at my house today, with people dropping in left and right. I love it when they do this, but on this particular occasion, these impromptu visits mean I didn’t quite get the book finished.

Well, okay, to be honest, I likely could have, except, every day when I drive into downtown Kelowna for work I think, “Today I am going to stay late and explore all the businesses down here!” And every day, I go directly to my car, and I drive away home. So, I thought to myself, I could stay here and read the last quarter of this tale, or, I could skip ahead to the last few pages to ensure my perspective of Vonnegut’s message isn’t changed and then traipse into town early in order to window shop my afternoon away.

I went with option B.

Kelowna Art Gallery, where I work, is located on Water Street, across from the Delta Grand Hotel. Directly behind us is the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, and behind them, on Ellis Street is the Hambleton Gallery. The Hambleton sells the artwork they display, and every night I drive past them on my way home. I’ve always wanted to stop in, but they close before my shift ends. This, I think, is my chance!

Except, when I park (for free – yeah!) on a side-street, and brave the chilly wind to walk that way, I find a “Back in 5 minutes sign,” gracing the entrance. Hoping someone has merely forgotten to remove the sign, I try the door, anyway.

No joy.

So, with my favourite red scarf all but blowing off my neck as I brace against the wind, I hustle south until I come to Opus Art Supply store.

Opus is what a decorator might call minimalist style-wise. Actually, a decorator would call Opus unfinished. The store is an unadorned warehouse with high ceilings, white walls, gungy, well-trodden cement floors, track and fluorescent lighting, and rows and rows of paint tubes, paint brushes, canvases, frames, and other sundry art supplies. It is great!

I get a few odd looks when I step inside and immediately start snapping pictures of the store, but as soon as I explain I am a writer and am doing a piece on interesting downtown merchants, their suspicious looks fade. Mostly. As soon as I name drop my place of employment, I get smiles. I’ve noticed this phenomenon before — KAG gives me excellent social capital.

The exhibit I first saw at Kelowna Art Gallery was the Levy collection, with work by the impressionist masters (Van Gogh, Pissaro, Monet, Degas etc.) on display. Several of these paintings came to us framed in the original frames, and the frames themselves are (in my opinion) works of art. Pissaro, for example, painted an apple orchard, and then framed it in what I am quite convinced is a frame elaborately carved from apple wood.

From the time of this exhibit, I have been fascinated with framing. I want to know about techniques and trends and the history of… and when I tell this to the people at Opus, the lady happily jots down the name and contact information of a gentleman with a gallery at the coast she swears will have answers to all my questions. I am thrilled, and will get in touch with Jonathon as soon as there is time in the new year.

The same lady also tells me that they regularly offer classes at Opus, and they also have visiting artists speak. For a schedule of these events check out the Opus Kelowna website.

Leaving Opus with their class schedule and the framing contact folded into my back pocket, I trot back up to Hambleton Gallery and this time, the door is open. Sitting behind a desk facing the entrance is Joshua, whom, I learn, is the store owner. Hambleton Gallery, he tells me, has been in Kelowna for for 55 years. The website tells me it got its name from original owners Jack and Lorna Hambleton. I walk inside and fall in love with… everything. I ask if I may take photos, and then embarrass myself by basically photographing every item in the store.

Joshua tells me that not all the art work in the gallery is from local artists, but a significant percentage is because, “There is so much talent in the Okanagan.” On display, there are paintings, of course, but also various sculptures and ceramic works. I could stay here for hours, but given my Opus jaunt, I have fifteen minutes until Joshua closes up, so I rush myself, and promise to return. He tells me the exhibits change over every few months, so come back in two months.

Two months? I was thinking sometime next week.

At Hambleton Gallery, the prices I have seen at a quick glance range from $650 to over $10,000 — sadly beyond me at this time. Looking, fortunately, is free.

Leaving Joshua to finish off his day, I head back down the street. First, I pop into Georgie Girl, which advertises itself as a vintage clothing store. Curious, I ask the attendant what constitutes vintage clothing, and she tells me anything from the 1980’s and earlier, then confides, really, even the ’90’s could be termed vintage. True vintage, though, is a garment from the 70’s and earlier.

“Is there a market?” I ask her, hoping my inarticulate question is received in the spirit of curiosity which I intend, and she responds that vintage clothing is a niche market, but people know the store and enjoy their garments. Although I am not speaking to the owner, the attendant clearly takes pride in her work, because when I ask to take her photograph, she speaks of presenting the store well. Her attitude, as much as the shiny sequined dresses hanging in the front window guarantee that one day I will come back and spend more time browsing, but for today, I have one more stop to make before heading to BNA and our literary discourse.

Side bar note: I’m sitting here at work and my co-worker and I are discussing this blog, and she pounces on the Georgie Girl subject, gets out of her chair and says, “Georgie Girl, I love it!” Running to the coat room, she comes back holding her coat and says, “I bought this there!” The coat she shows me is black wool with fur cuffs and collar, and she caresses it lovingly. 

Underground Music deals in vinyl albums. Since the last time I was in a vinyl record store, I was in San Francisco’s Filmore District, this little record store in my hometown has, to my mind, a lot to live up to.

And it manages just fine. From the sculpted guitar player with his aggressive, broad-legged stance which blares music from a speaker at the store’s front door to the sections of vinyl LP’s ranging from jazz and blues to metal to pop to classical and even to rap, Underground Music has all the bases covered. Even though, privately I think rap music vinyl seems like an oxymoron. How does one manage to rap without making the record skip? Beats me.

Underground Music changed ownership in 2018, and the store hits a vibe I am enjoying. When I ask where they get their stock, I am told they find it all over, from estates to collectors and in-between. They accept any genre except classical, as it doesn’t tend to sell. Nor, for that matter, does country. For some reason, this does not surprise me.

I start swapping stories with one of the salesmen, and soon he has Huey Lewis and the News playing for me. “I love this,” he tells me. “I play it every day.” We take a beat to mutually appreciate the music of my generation, this kid of today’s generation and I. Then we discuss the John Cussack flick, High Fidelity. His associate hasn’t seen it, but might if he can get it off iTunes.

And there it is, the intersection of old and new. Technology — such a beautiful thing.

“Why,” I ask the Huey Lewis fan, “Do you think there is a resurgence in new artists recording on vinyl?”

He speaks at some length on this, likens vinyl LP’s to a chair — a solid piece of furniture which can not really be improved upon. He seems to feel the industry has come full circle. Some of the technology in between vinyl and digital has been discarded and has fallen away, but vinyl is here to stay.

I hope he is correct.

I rush from the music store to BNA Brewing Co and Eatery, and find the place packed. I haven’t been inside this building since it’s former incarnation as Flashbacks nightclub. “It felt like,” I tell my book club buddies, “Flashbacks was here one day then gone the next. I never heard anything about it changing until it was gone.” This, they tell me, is because I don’t live downtown. The locals were aware.

We reminisce briefly about our Flashbacks experiences, then give our orders to the pretty, young waitress. They’ve done an excellent job refurbishing the place. The brick walls, high ceilings and wood beams are gorgeous. Upstairs ten-pin bowling lanes add a cool concept to the venue, and the noise factor is surprisingly minimal. At least from where I am sitting.

Also, I love their ultra cool washrooms. With their black and white checkered floor tiles and their modern faucets, they too blend old and new seamlessly.

At BNA, I am all about book club, so I don’t eat, but I can say, my friend ordered a pizza and it looked amazing. Delectable. Out waitress is attentive, and my first experience of BNA — in fact of each of the businesses I have visited today — is positive. As I have said each time I have walked out of these establishments, I will be back.

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