The most highly-anticipated restaurant to open this year, Yellow Belly Brewery. Photo by Elling Lien.

Sydney Blackmore windowshops through 2008.

You know when you go to a restaurant and you’ve ordered a burger so big you need to survey it and choose a good point of entry before you hunker down and take that first bite?

That’s totally how I feel about this Best Of edition of Storefront.

So much has happened in the city’s small business world over the past year that it’s hard to know where to sink my teeth in. But here goes…

Water off a Duck
Water Street and Duckworth is a good area to start chewing.

Boutiques near these two downtown streets have been playing musical chairs with their addresses this year. Home on Water, Living Planet, The Bridal Salon, Newfound Icelandic Designs and The Gypsy Tea Room have each made a change of venue up, down, or across the two-street strip.

There’ve also been a bundle of new businesses opening in the area: Modern Printing Services Copy Centre, Coffee Matters Too, Pi Gourmet Eatery, You You Shoes, Anchorage Coffee and The Fat Duck restaurant are all newbies to the downtown scene.

It hasn’t all been And there have been businesses we’ve had to say goodbye to, like Mustang Sally’s on Queen’s Road (only temporarily, they promise), West Side Charlie’s, Sugar Cane Lane and Dandelion Green on Water Street.

Filet O’ George Street
Perhaps the most interesting development to come to everyone’s favourite thoroughfare was the proposal to redevelop ol’ Georgey. The City of St. John’s and the George Street Association teamed up and presented a proposal to the city council in October 2008; some proposed changes included leveling the street, getting rid of raised sidewalks and building outdoor removable decks for bar properties.

Ken O’Brien, Manager of Planning with the City of St. John’s, gave an update on the redevelopment, “Mixed support for it and not completely clear support from the GSA and its members, although they certainly are our partners. Funding is going to be the question. So it’s all up in the air, we’ll see what happens in the new year.”
Also on George: Etomik and Normie’s turned off their taps and Dusk and Shamrock City opened in their spots. There’s Whiskey, a bar with singing wait-staff, and the new martini locale of Rain Drizzle and Fog (RDF) above O’Reilly’s. Add Whalen’s Bar & Grill and dance bars Loft 709 and Spin to the roster and you’ve got some business moving and shaking.

Also, the much anticipated Yellow Belly Brewery and Public House on George Street made its grand entrance this year. It’s the first micro-brewery and restaurant combo that’s staked a claim in the downtown quarters since The Duke of Duckworth.

The worst of times…
2008 has seen the demise of some of the city’s oldest establishments. I’d like to tip my hat to the good people of Kavanagh’s Fish and Chips who closed their doors during the summertime. (Mr. Kavanagh, I hope that retirement has been treating you well.)

Auntie Crae’s on Water is another years-old establishment that made some major changes. The 31-year old bakery is now closed two days of its work week to combat the lack of available employees to work the store, according to management.

More recently, Turner’s Tavern, ‘the oldest bar on the oldest street in the oldest city in North America’, was another venue forced to close its doors. It’s a sad moment for the city’s music scene. One less venue and jam space for alternative music.

The best of times…
New concepts for businesses drummed itself up throughout the year, as well. St. John’s welcomed the island’s first-ever comedy club via Yuk Yuk’s, located on Kenmount Road, which just had its gala opening a month ago and has been packing in sold out shows ever since.

It was a sad moment for hockey fans when the St. John’s Fog Devils ended their 3-year stint at Mile One Centre. Even so, the stadium managed to pull a profit for the first time ever this year—quite a feat considering they were out by $640,000 just the year before.

Model Citizens on Duckworth Street is another great niche business that’s opened, and furnishes a collection of gently used designer clothing to fashion forward (and thrifty) shoppers. (I just bought an ama-za-zing Givenchy poppy red crepe cocktail dress at this spot—it’s true, dreams really do come true.)

And it looks like St. John’s is one step closer to keeping its indoor farmer’s market in business. The Farmer’s Market, located at the Lion’s Club on Bonaventure, is setting up shop in the same venue for 2009.

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