Gerald Tostowaryk

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Buy local this Covid Christmas

My initial thought on how to open this blog post was something along the lines of “Well it’s been a long time since my last blog…”, but it seems that is how I start every post, so let me start by saying, Merry Christmas! Buy Local! (but it has been a long time since my last blog).

Given the season, the pandemic, and the economy, rather than a post on real estate today, what better way to start blogging again than to do a post on my favorite local shops for a variety of gifts, gadgets and goodies for your last-minute stocking stuffers? Over the years, I’ve become a huge fan of local and I find the best quality of product and service comes from local businesses. Not only do they provide quality products and services, but local businesses statistically employ more people than big businesses. So, I ask you, what’s not to like?

There are just too many great local shops to mention in one blog post so please feel free to add your faves in the comments.


Speaking of what’s not to like, let me start off with some musical choices, including one of my favorite blues musicians, British Columbia boy, David Gogo. His music is really upbeat and enjoyable, including What’s Not to Like? on his 2015 album, Vicksburg Call.


David has a great sense of humour. When I saw him at Shakers Roadhouse, I went to buy a couple of his albums and he asked, “Which Juno loser do you want?” and pointed at several albums, saying, “Juno loser, Juno loser, Juno loser.” A credit to his talent, he has been nominated for a ton of Junos, including several albums but has only won a couple times. I say bah humbug to the Junos people.
I own about half his albums and there isn’t one I don’t like a lot. If you’re a blues fan, check him out.

Another of my favorite blues artists is Maple Blues Awards winner, Monkeyjunk. Okay they’re from the Ottawa area so not as local, but I did see them at the Calgary Bluesfest so that kinda counts. Their brand of rockin’ swamp blues is really infectious. My favorite album is To Behold, which rocks from start to finish, but my favorite Monkeyjunk tune is a Muddy Waters remake (and he may have re-made it too, for all I know), I Wanna Put a Tiger In Your Tank (there’s a lot of innuendo in blues music, and Muddy was no exception).


Finally, a great (and really local) blues music choice (okay I admit, I’m a blues fan) is Alberta boy Charlie Jacobson. He’s not as acclaimed as David Gogo or Monkeyjunk, but his album Alberta Flood is a great listen.

Moving on to jazz, a graduate of Edmonton’s Grant MacEwan music program, and Juno award winning guitarist, Mike Rud, has several albums under his belt, including his latest effort with Peter Bernstein, Salome’s Dance. Mike is a walking book of musical knowledge and an amazing guitarist.


Since good music needs to be accompanied by good food, here are a few of my favorite shops for the yummy side of things.

Hands down, my favorite bakery is Bonjour Bakery on 99 St., just south of the river. The longtime owner and baker utilizes an old and very time intensive technique to produce some absolutely delicious breads. He also imports a good selection of very delectable cheeses from around the world.
Bread and cheese! As David Gogo would say, what’s not to like?

My second favorite is Bon Ton Bakery on 149 St. They have also been around a long time and offer a wide selection of delicious breads.


Sticking with the baked goods theme, if you are looking for some sweets for Christmas, there are two shops you must check out. Bliss Baked Goods on 142 St and 107 has the most amazing donuts, I mean they are amazing. They advertise them as “world famous”, which may be an exaggeration but it won’t be for long. Light and fluffy, and perfectly baked every time, my mouth is watering just thinking about them.
Another celebrated shop with a wider selection of patisseries is Duchess Bake Shop on 124 St. Their selection of out of this world sweets is super-extraordinary.

Moving from baked goods to cheese, The Cheese Factory at 90 St and 82 Ave is a quaint little shop that makes and sells its own cheeses as well as other brands. Pick up a bag of their cheese curds (often nicknamed kwik kwik because it squeaks between the teeth), a bag of poutine sauce mix, and make your own poutine, or just buy a few cheeses and maybe some sausage.


My final entry in the food shop category is the ever-impressive Italian Centre Shop (known in the Italian community as Spinelli’s). Owned and operated by the Spinelli family since it’s inception in (I think) the 50’s, the quality and selection of products is as good as it gets. For a marvelous food experience, pick up a loaf of Calabrese bread, some top-quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil, a chunk of aged (medium aged if you’re not ready for aged) asiago cheese, a few hundred grams of Salami Prosciutto, and a bottle of red Italian wine (you’ll have to get that last item elsewhere) on a Friday evening. You will be in your own little heaven.
Or dine in (when covid restrictions ease) and try some of their Roman style thin-crust pizza. If you’ve ever been to Rome and eaten the pizza, it is near impossible to find anything that rivals it for sheer quality and taste experience - unless you eat at Spinelli’s.


Man, I’m really getting hungry! Okay, we better move on to gifts.


One of my favorite local businesses is Bubbles and Bliss Soaps. The local gal hand-makes her own soaps and they are amazing. Soft and subtle, with just the perfect hint of various scents, I use them for all my customer gifts these days, and for our family soap needs. The quality is second to none, you won’t be disappointed. Give them a try. Do it.


For the cyclists in the family, Revolution Cycle is second to none for service and selection. They have a huge shop on Stony Plain Road at 151 St. (including a basement that seems to stretch on forever), but their service department is, in my opinion, their shining star. I’ve used them numerous times to maintain and repair my bikes (I have a few) and they always do the job right the first time. One bike was having recurrent problems shifting in mid-range gears, and their service tech suspected right away it was because of some unbelievably obscure reason. He was right.


For the musicians I wanted to recommend Axe Music, but they have been bought out by Long and McQuade. L & M isn’t really local (across Canada) but they are Canadian, and their staff are generally very knowledgeable. As well, their inventory is one of the best around, wide ranging and complete.


I could go on…and on, but let’s leave it at that for today, and maybe I’ll do another buy local post next quarter. But for now, with this great list, what’s not to like?

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