Ottawa Magazine’s October issue uncovers “hidden Ottawa” with a hole-in-the-wall handbook that embraces the city’s undercover ambience, celebrating 39 overlooked nooks, hipster hideaways, secret foodie sources, and other mysterious locales. Get your copy at Britton’s magazine store and other newsstand locations around town.
Matty McGovern is a big, scruffy guy who, according to local legend, worked at every record store in the city before opening his own place. Why strike out on his own? His former employers kept closing down. McGovern is usually at the front, chatting with an audiophile or a record collector about rare finds and prized singles. Find The Record Shaap underneath the second-hand clothing shop/lunch spot Gypsy & Co. An odd locale, perhaps, but it reflects perfectly its status as a nexus of hipster Ottawa. And so does the decor: it’s tidy, almost chic, with bright blue walls and a retro decor. 209 Gilmour St., 613-321-0564, www.therecordshaap.tumblr.com.
This niche business has been supplying light bulbs to Ottawa — nay, the world — since 1971. Buchanan Lighting keeps 4,000 types of bulbs on hand, but it acts as a distribution point for thousands more. Yes, there are bulbs for general use, and they’ll be selling incandescents long after they’ve been discontinued at your local hardware store (they found a legal loophole). But ask them about the map behind the cash — that’s where the stories are. Staff are proud of their contribution to the Canadarm, their bulbs that can purify water in equatorial countries, and the lights used for testing soil for carbon dioxide levels. There’s even a bulb that can artificially age wood for violins. By the time you leave, you’ll be comparing a good LED bulb to a fine merlot. 129 Loretta Ave., 613-728-3551, www.buchananlighting.ca
Surrounded by bright cotton separates and dangly earrings, a mini oasis is growing in this Chinatown shop. Helen Le of Ottawa Bonsai Penjing Art shares the space with Crazy Fashions, but being a one-woman operation in a field that’s meant to thrive in small spaces, she naturally keeps to one small corner. Plumeria, rosemary, citrus, and pomegranate grow in simple pots; most are in the $15-to-$60 range and would work nicely in a cubicle. For avid collectors of the favourite hobby of Mr. Miyagi in the (original) Karate Kid movies, there’s also a $300 ficus tree — a multi-stemmed creation that looks like a miniature forest. And there are some that aren’t for sale but make perfect conversation starters for plant geeks interested in discussing the tao of bonsai. 806 Somerset St. W., 613-788-6988, www.ottawabonsai.ca
Here’s a perfect spot to pick up decorations for a Mad Men-themed dinner party or donate much-loved furnishings or test your luck with the store mascot (a black cat named Jinx that plays kind of rough). Highjinx opened earlier this year as a non-registered not-for-profit, the result of a dream of co-owners Karen Nielsen and Leigh Reid, two former social workers who were tired of seeing only the admin side of community building. They donate all net profits to help the chronically homeless find a decent place to live. Most of the stuff is brought in by friends, family, and people looking for somewhere more accountable than a drop-off box. Stock changes constantly, but you can be sure to find desks and upholstered chairs — all with that retro look that works so well in the small apartments of Centretown. 621 Somerset St. W., 613-261-3502, 613-864-4289.
A subtle sign, a side door, stairs down: the west Centretown neighbourhood near industrial City Centre is crawling with these types of shops, and FoundDesign is a good one to discover. Rich with mid-century modern finds, you’ll find Danish (and Danish-style) furniture, statement lamps that serve as conversation starters, retro wall units, low teak couches (some with nice upholstery), snazzy chandeliers, and cool space-saving devices. It’s like stepping into your parents’ 1970s rec room — if your parents were ubercool, that is. Make your way to the back for some funkier finds, like vintage beaded curtains. While the West Centretown locale is less prominent than its former home in Old Ottawa South, we think that’s part of the fun. 164 Elm St., 613-523-2205, www.founddesign.ca
With exposed beams and massive windows, the new home of antique depository A Fine Thing looks like a cottage boathouse. Kind of smells like one, too, as the whiff of dusty nostalgia transports you away and distracts from the construction outside. It moved out of its long-time Hintonburg space earlier this year and into a curious (and huge) store that opens onto the Somerset Street bridge. Better to enter from the City Centre side, though. There’s parking; you just have to climb a fire escape to get to the third-floor entrance. Once inside, you’ll find glass and tableware; enough chairs to furnish a small theatre; and all manner of lamps, cabinets, and dressers. Some items stand out — like a Victorian women’s parlour chair ($495) — and most are sourced from estate sales, so full sets are easy to come by. 989 Somerset St. W., 613-729-1388, www.afinething.ca
There may not be anyone welcoming you at the door of Patrick Gordon Framing. You might be confused — who’s running the show? But the legwork is worth it. Not only are there deals to be had (not paying for boutique storefront space trickles down to framing costs), but there are also tips and tidbits to be had for the art aficionado willing to chat up the staff — who happen to include some well-established artists. Browse the table up front for news about upcoming events and underground exhibits. On your way to the loo in the back of the cavernous space, have a look at some of the projects on the go; the exacting work done in this open-concept store might even educate you on why it’s best to take prized paintings to the pros. While it’s off the beaten path, on vernissage night Patrick Gordon is at the centre of the action as the hordes of cultured folk stream down the concrete stairs. 160 Elm St., 613-232-7146, www.patrickgordonframing.ca