Johnson: New surprises can always be found on Bernard

I was utterly gobsmacked by the amazing businesses that our downtown entrepreneurs have created…

I went for a downtown stroll on a recent sunny fall day.

As usual, I was utterly gobsmacked by the amazing businesses that our downtown entrepreneurs have created—there’s always new and exciting energy here.

I was drawn to Unless Market, at 534 Bernard Ave., which opened a few months back.

Owner Sarah Coffey was excited to tell me about her concept, a place where local artisans and eco-friendly products can be displayed and sold, all under one roof.

And what a variety of wonderful products at the market as Sarah has added a VOC free, non-toxic paint in over 30 colours that is made in Merritt and becomes a chalkboard once it’s painted on. How much fun is that?

Then there are the beautiful wooden homewares by I’m Board Rustic (boxes, wall arrows and display ladders); and Burnish Designs (cutting/serving boards and coaster sets) and stunning photos printed on canvas by Sarah’s husband, Marc Coffey.

You’ll also find food items like Little Creek salad dressings and local organic eggs.

The market also carries hand-made clothes, woven felt hats and tops by Besoreal, unique cotton tops by SUP Lovin’ (who also make a clever SUP anchor from recycled materials).

Top this all off with striking jewelry by local artists and you have a shop with a great concept that’s really fun to browse through. Definitely a hot spot for gift shopping.

Just a few blocks down the street, I found Alchemy, at 345 Bernard Ave., where I chatted with owners Sheila Estephan and Jeff McGregor.

Here is a shop where you could happily lose yourself for hours, checking out the myriad of fascinating and unusual homewares.

It has the feel of a lovely European boutique, where even the display fixtures are fascinating—whitewashed wooden pallets and shelving that let the merchandise shine. It’s a pleasure to wander among the one-of-a-kind light fixtures, pillows, vases, huge bamboo lanterns, home decor books, body products and soaps. What a delight for the senses.

There’s even a Sandrine Bar featuring Sandrine chocolates and macaroons, soon to feature an expresso machine as well, so you can fortify yourself for all the shopping you’ll want to do.

One of the most interesting products was giant wall art based on famous artworks from “IXXI” of the Netherlands that you put together from a package of small cards. Very striking. Alchemy is definitely a must-do downtown experience.

Right next door to Alchemy is Antico Pizza Napoletana, 347 Bernard Ave., where I was greeted by the warm aroma of fresh pizza.

I had a great visit with owner Tony Katsabanis. This fascinating guy has been in the pizza business for 30 years.

He started his career by studying and working in a pizza restaurant in Naples, where they make the unique Napoletana crust which is soft and light and has to be made according to strict rules.

Tony actually has the certification of pizzaiolo, which means he was trained to make the unique Napoletana pizza.

I was lucky enough to have a demo of pizzas being made and cooked in their incredible wood-burning oven. It’s made from volcanic clay from near Pompeii and it cooks the food at 900 degrees.

It retains heat so well that it will fully bake a pizza in 90 seconds. Talk about fast food.

The pizzeria is also licensed for wine and beer, which makes them a great spot for either lunch or dinner.

Annegret’s Chocolates and Alexander Cutlery & Gifts, in the Towne Centre Mall on Bernard Avenue, have recently made some changes.

Annegret’s has expanded to offer more tables and a door to the outside (look for the red door and awning) which enables them to be open for longer hours.

They now offer fresh cakes made daily (cheesecake and German marble cake when I was there) as well as croissants.

Soon will come crepes and stuffed croissants to allow for serving a full lunch menu.

Of course, there are their marvelous freshly-made chocolates, a selection of teas and a new fair-trade coffee line called Doi Chaang which is 100 per cent Arabica organic coffee produced by the Akha Hill Tribe in Thailand. Delicious.

To top off the whole experience, Ron Alexander, of Alexander Gifts, has teamed up with them, so you’ll find his beautiful giftware throughout the shop—jewelry, candles, glassware, trinket boxes, figurines.

Better drop by and see what all the excitement is about in this bright new spot.

Don’t miss out on the fun this Saturday, Oct. 24, as the Downtown Kelowna Association brings you the last Small Shop Saturday of the year.

The merchants of downtown will be doing all sorts of exciting things from free demos to giveaways to one-day special sales.

You’ll also get a chance to win a $250 gift certificate for a downtown shopping spree. Just look for the balloon bouquets outside the 103 participating shops, and you’ll find a whole lotta fun inside. Parking is free for the day on the street, at parkades and all city-owned parking lots.

It’s our local merchants’ way of saying, “Thanks for the support.”