Slightly seedy secret

Inglewood has historic treasures and diverse shopping

You’d think most Calgarians would know about Inglewood if only because it’s “Calgary Original Main Street” but somehow it manages to remain one of the city’s Best Kept Secrets according to our readers. So we’ve decided to shed some light on this mysterious neighbourhood.

According to the Inglewood Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ) the city’s oldest neighbourhood was established next to Fort Calgary in 1875. The community was founded by Major John Stewart Acheson Irvine and James Macleod and included the development of Ninth Avenue S.E. (formerly Atlantic Avenue) — the city’s first authentic main street. Originally known as East Calgary or Brewery Flats the community was officially named “Inglewood” in 1911 after the nearby homestead established by Col. James Walker.

Inglewood is located east of the Elbow and Bow River junction at Ninth Avenue S.E. which itself runs down the middle of the neighbourhood and is bordered by the Bow River on one side and the train tracks on the other.

The community is filled with historical treasures from Fort Calgary which was established in 1875; to the 1907 National Hotel (soon to be home of Michael Noble’s Nash restaurant); the city’s Fire Station No. 3 which was built in 1906 (currently home to the Hose & Hound pub); Colonel Walker School a sandstone building from 1912; and the Inglewood Lawn Bowling Club which was established by CPR employees in 1936; as well as several other heritage buildings.

And then there’s the attractions — the Calgary Zoo (voted Best Place to Take the Kids and Best Place to Waste an Entire Day ) Inglewood Bird Sanctuary Bow Habitat Station Inglewood Wildlands Park and the Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery.

Today Inglewood’s main strip is populated by independent stores selling clothes books home decor collectibles and more as well as restaurants coffeeshops pubs live music venues and art galleries. Some of those places are among the best in the city according to readers: Best Deli — Spolumbos; first and second Best New Stores — North American Quality Purveyors (NAQP) and Plant respectively; second Best Art Gallery — Esker Foundation; second Best Men’s Clothing and third Best Women’s Clothing — Espy; ; second Best Pizza — Without Papers; third Best Place to Buy Music — Recordland ; and third Best Open Jam/Mic — Ironwood.

In fact Inglewood itself placed second in the Best Shopping District category which is a surprising accomplishment for a place that apparently has yet to be discovered.

Rebecca O’Brien executive director of the Inglewood BRZ says it’s “hilarious” that anyone would consider the historic neighbourhood a secret. She suggests it could be partially due to the fact it had a reputation in the late ’80s and early ’90s as being a “slightly seedy” place filled with dusty antique shops but that has changed dramatically in the last decade. Sadly most of the remaining antique shops did not survive the flood but O’Brien says there has been no shortage of businesses interested in renting those vacated spaces.

The other explanation O’Brien offers for the Best Kept Secret vote is that Calgary is so deeply suburban and widely sprawled with investment in big-box and mall shopping culture that people sometimes forget about the small inner-city areas. “When they come to a neighbourhood like Inglewood and they see how interesting and appealing and different everything is I think it’s a reminder” she says.

That character is one of the reasons the BRZ is trying to avoid over-gentrification — O’Brien quotes former alderman Jack Long whose motto was “Keep Inglewood slightly seedy.” She adds that other than Starbucks Inglewood has kept out franchises “to the best of our ability” although they can’t stop businesses from moving in if they meet all the requirements — the BRZ would like to see such developments be required to accommodate the neighbourhood’s character but O’Brien says the city is “not quite there” yet.

For now almost 50 per cent of the businesses are either locally owned or the staff lives locally. “That’s very high” she adds. “There’s a really solid investment by locals into the businesses area and vice versa.”

Kyle Van Der Velden owner of NAQP laughs when I tell him he opened up shop in one of the city’s best shopping districts and best kept secrets but he’s not entirely surprised either. “It seems we have a lot of people coming in who say ‘Oh I never make it down to Inglewood’” he says adding that Calgary is really spread out and a lot of people never go east of downtown. “It’s silly of them not to.”

Still he is confident that Inglewood was a good choice for his store which sells men’s clothing and accessories made in North America. “I knew that this was the neighbourhood that I wanted to be in. It was the only place I could find character.”

Van Der Velden appreciates the fact that landlords in Inglewood seem more likely to revamp a building than tear it down and that no big-box stores have moved in to displace the independent stores that make it diverse. “Inglewood I don’t think will ever have that — it doesn’t seem like anyone here is interested in that.”

He says local residents are really proud of their community and its businesses which makes it a place where unique shops like Knifewear a “really cool” specialty store with a narrow focus on Japanese knives and old school shaving goods and Plant the new terrarium store that had a lineup on its opening day can succeed.

If Inglewood really is a secret to some it probably won’t be for long. This year it moved down to third place in the Best Kept Secret category from first place in 2013 when it didn’t even show up in the Best Shopping District category so it’s obviously starting to show up on people’s radars.

Van Der Velden says he believes Inglewood is starting to attract more people and community events like the Inglewood Night Market and Sunfest are helping. He predicts it will only get busier with the East Village opening up. “People are seeking us [NAQP] out and we’re not even on the main street…. People are coming into the neighbourhood just to look or to find one restaurant or one store.”