8 downtown hot-spots for students

Brock students come from all corners of the Earth but what are those spots that will stick with them when they eventually leave? What are the businesses, institutions and landmarks which represent the true spirit of downtown St. Catharines? One thing that will always connect Brock students and alumni is the city itself, which graciously provides unforgettable memories, amazing opportunities and a unique culture all unto its own. Our fair city is experiencing an economic and cultural Renaissance and if you are not familiar with the downtown scene, this list will be a helpful guide in navigating the booming cityscape of downtown “St. Kitts”.

1. Merchant Ale House
The Merchant Ale House is a Badger right of passage. As soon as you walk into “Merch” as it is lovingly referred to by students, the decorum has a profound effect. The low lighting and rustic wooden layout compliments the giant metallic brewing drums in the background. These drums aren’t just for show; Merchant Ale House proudly brews all of their own unique beers with 14 options to choose from. It’s also difficult to describe their food as strictly “pub food” when their menu offers gourmet meat and cheese boards and house-made daily soups and wraps in addition to well balanced classics like pulled pork, tacos and burgers, and blueberry beer.

2. The Write Bookshop
I am a self-proclaimed connoisseur of used bookstores. I’ve visited several ‘mom and pop‘ bookshops from all across Ontario, but I can say with confidence that The Write Bookshop is the most sublime shopping experience I’ve ever had in any bookstore. With over 100,000 books in inventory and two floors to explore, I genuinely feel like I’m shopping in a store off of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter whenever I step into the building. There’s this serene feeling one is confronted with when they are in the presence of so many books. There is so much knowledge all in one place that the overall effect is breathtaking. The Write Bookshop is a family run business and the dynamic between the three owners is heartwarming. It’s refreshing to step into a store that is so uncorrupted by big business. Lastly, the store also offers a discount for students as well as a half off sale for all books in store throughout various months of the year. I’ve also been able to pick up required texts for various courses at a much lower price than the Brock Campus Bookstore.

3. Niagara Records
When you shop here, it feels like your discovering relics of another generation. You can slip a vinyl record out of its casing and contemplate on the scratches or divots in the vinyl thinking about how many people before you held that exact record; how many people played that record when they were sad, low and in need of comfort or when they were jovial, excited and ready to celebrate and every emotion in between. It is this appreciation and respect for the past that I find resonates with the spirit of the city in a way that brings the whole community together. One can find some rare and classic albums at Niagara Records at amazingly reasonable prices. I have personally found a 5 vinyl set of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing for a bargain. Even if you don’t have a record player, the store also sells books, movies and novelty items from the past.

4. Beechwood Doughnuts
With a 4.9 out of 5 rating on Facebook, it’s no mystery why Beechwood Doughnuts made this list. With over 20 different flavours of doughnuts to choose from, all of which are prepared with completely vegan recipes, this may be the most guilt-free and delicious snack you’ll find. The layout of the store is elegant yet efficient; the flavours change each season and the prices are fairly reasonable considering the quality. I suspect that Badgers will fondly look back and remember the expressions of sheer joy and delight whenever they surprised a friend or study group with a coveted box of delicious Beechwood doughnuts. With flavours like blueberry maple crumble, toasted coconut, mocha, hazelnut brownie, cherry chocolate fritter, and so many more, there is literally a flavour for everyone. St. Catharines wouldn’t be the same without its fix of fresh vegan doughnuts!

5. Niagara Artists Centre
Niagara Artists Centre (NAC) is a not-for-profit, charitably registered, member-driven collective formed by and dedicated to serving the working artists and community of Niagara. Founded in 1969 as a collective of working artists, NAC is one of the oldest artist-run organizations in Canada. NAC provides a forum for the development, exhibition and appreciation of contemporary art by providing facilities, equipment, professional expertise and a supportive atmosphere for arts research, advocacy and dissemination. NAC is striving to educate and contribute to a community that gets excited about art, that supports and recognizes local artists and cultural institutions, and that understands an investment in the arts is an act of enlightened self interest. As a student, I often wander into the NAC and revel in the opportunity to walk around a gallery and marvel at all the fresh and local art pieces on the walls. Art can be an escape for so many, and the downtown community wouldn’t be the same without this open and dedicated forum.

6. Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts
The MIWSFPA building is arguably the catalyst that of the impending economic rejuvenation of the downtown core. The state of the art facilities and cultivating spaces and opportunities for the arts to prosper perfectly match the artisinal nature of downtown. Any student of any program can make connections with this new and exciting building. By attending student and faculty run concerts, plays or art exhibitions, the MIWSFPA building caters to the community at large. I was personally able to enjoy the DART 4F56 class’ production of Mnemonic. I highly recommend supporting these local talents as faculty and students alike are capable of creating visceral and stunning art using the facilities of MIWSFPA. Being the home to so many memories of creation and appreciation, Badgers will remember this building fondly as time goes by.

7. Detour Music Hall
While any number of venues could have made this list, Detour Music Hall is superior for one reason: anyone can go there and interact at any level with genuine results. What I mean by this is that Detour Music Hall is dedicated to creating excellent live music experiences but also serves as an outlet for the wider St. Catharines community. Detour attracts and accepts everyone from bands of notoriety and fame to local groups who are just starting out in their careers. Thousands of students over the years have frequented downtown’s Detour Music Hall and come away with unforgettable experiences. Indoor Shoes, Niagara’s region’s concert organizer and promotion company has held many events here. Detour also offers a space for charitable events to take place. In some ways, Detour Music Hall has become an outlet where anyone can go, enjoy and revel in what St. Catharines has to offer. Those other places are great and emblematic of a lot of our experiences, but I believe that Detour’s policy of acceptance is more representative of the spirit of St. Catharines.

8. Grape & Wine Festival
The crowning jewel of St. Catharines, the weekend long event that all students, community members and faculty alike mark on their calendars and look forward to all summer long: Grape & Wine Festival! Once a year, Montabello Park is overrun by hordes of passionate wine-os, foodies and citizens. There is nothing quite like walking around the park tasting several of Niagara’s best wines with friends and enjoying the live music. The scene is absolutely picturesque as jovial groups of people mingle in the park’s square. Bringing together members of the entire community to celebrate the delicacies of our region, the Grape & Wine Festival cannot be missed.

Nicholas Blasiak

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