The log-frame Old Country Market is open every day and features a bit of everything: decorative items, toys, dishware, sushi sets, baked goods, ice cream, fresh vegetables, imported foods and deli. I can’t possibly do it justice…it goes on and on and there are things there that I’ve never seen before. It really has the feel of a big farmer’s market. Around it, you’ll find outbuildings that contain a number of shops with whimsical names: Pyromania Pottery, Baa Quest, The Prancing Pony, The Rubber Stamp Farm, Dr. Leather and Mrs. Hide and Dogpatch, for example. I often use the word "eclectic"; I should have saved it for Coombs. It’s a lot of fun and in the summertime, it’s the home of the Goats on the Roof. (You’ll have to check that out!)
Nanaimo reminded me of my own area…it is somewhat nondescript. It would be less so if one were to live there as they have paid attention to a lot of the details that would make a city livable. The waterfront, built around the blockhouse originally built to protect the area (It’s called the Bastion, which may be a little hyperbolic.), is pretty and has a number of coffee shops and an elevated boardwalk overlooking the harbour.
The Commercial Street area (aka Downtown) has a number of attractive shops. At 150 Commercial Street there is the Nanaimo Art Gallery, the downtown face of the main gallery which is on the Malaspina campus. At the gallery, it is possible to buy or rent art; rentals start at $20/month. Great idea! Down the street at 223 Commercial is Gallery 223. It has an extremely large selection of quality oils, photographs, prints, watercolours, glass, and pottery. Upstairs there is studio and display space for several local artists.
The Old City Quarter of Nanaimo is a short walk up Bastion Street (which becomes Fitzwilliam Street). It contains a lot of redevelopment and a number of restaurants. The areas that have been developed are attractive, but the "quarter" isn’t extensive and it has the feel of a good idea that is currently stalled.
Chemainus is just a dot on the map north of Duncan, but it has become a tourist magnet. In 1982, the town invited artists to do murals on the exterior walls of its buildings. There are now 37 murals and 13 sculptures around the area. The visitor need only follow the yellow footprints on the sidewalks to see them all; there are actually two areas involved: the upper town and the old town near the beach…both are an easy walk from Water Wheel Park.
Chemainus is also the home of the Chemainus Theatre Festival; a professional theatre company calls the town’s attractive theatre its home base. As for the town itself, the main shopping area on Willow Street retains its old charm and makes for a nice visit without the murals. I think that in order to get a building permit here, you’ll need to use the word "quaint" in your building description. The town is a good example of what people can accomplish with a little imagination.