Shopping in the Core of Historic Victoria

View of the window display and overhang of a cute boutique shoe shop with white and powder blue trim.

She She Bags & Shoes in Trounce Alley. Photo © Blake Handley, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Victoria is a shopper’s delight. Although the city doesn’t have defined shopping precincts, the following descriptions provide an overview of shopping destinations within the downtown core. In the Inner Harbour, Government and Douglas Streets are the main strip of tourist and gift shops. The bottom end of Douglas, behind the Fairmont Empress Hotel, is where you’ll pick up all those tacky T-shirts and such. The touristy shops are all open Sunday.

All summer, the historical precinct of Bastion Square is filled with local artisans selling their wares at the Bastion Square Public Market 11am-5:30pm each Thursday through Saturday.

Linking Broad and Government Streets (near View Street), the cobblestoned Trounce Alley is off most visitors’ radar, but worth searching out for the spiritual gifts at Instinct Art & Gifts and the 1862 W&J Wilson men’s clothing store. Cross under the arch across Fisgard Street and enter Chinatown, with vendors selling produce and Asian curios, and then wander down Fan Tan Alley, Canada’s narrowest street, and through an eclectic array of shops and boutiques.

Fort Street between Cook and Quadra Streets has been branded Mosaic Village in recognition of the wide variety of local merchants in the area—antique shops, art galleries, clothing boutiques, and cooking supply stores. Most shops and all major department stores are generally open 9:30am-5:30pm Monday- Saturday and stay open for late-night shopping Thursday and Friday nights until 9pm.

Downtown

Farther up Government Street are more stylish shops, such as James Bay Trading Co. (1102 Government St., 250/388-5477, 9am-7pm daily), which specializes in First Nations art and crafts from the island’s coastal communities. Also recommended is Hill’s Native Art (1008 Government St., 250/385-3911, 9am- 7pm daily), selling a wide range of authentic First Nations souvenirs including original prints, Inuit carvings, totem poles, and jewelry.

Cowichan Trading (1328 Government St., 250/383-0321, 9am-6pm daily) specializes in Cowichan sweaters and other products hand-knitted by the Cowichan people of Vancouver Island.

Murchies (1110 Government St., 250/381-5451, 9am-6pm daily) sells an incredibly diverse selection of teas from around the world as well as tea paraphernalia such as teapots, gift sets, and collector tins. Traditions also continue at Rogers Chocolates (913 Government St., 250/881-8771), which is set up like a candy store of the early 1900s, when Charles Rogers first began selling his homemade chocolates to the local kids.

Old Town

In Old Town, the colorful, two-story Market Square courtyard complex was once the haunt of sailors, sealers, and whalers, who came ashore looking for booze and brothels. It’s been jazzed up, and today shops here specialize in everything from kayaks to condoms.

In the vicinity, a few blocks to the north, Capital Iron (1900 Store St., 250/385-9703, 9am-6pm Mon.-Sat., 10am-5pm Sun.) is the real thing. Housed in a three-story building that dates to 1863, this business began in the 1930s by offering the public goods salvaged from ships. In the 80-plus years since, it’s evolved into a department store stocking an eclectic variety of hardware and housewares, many of which are maritime related.

Bookstores

Don’t be put off by the touristy location of Munro’s Books (1108 Government St., 250/382-2464 or 888/243-2464, 9am-9pm Mon.-Sat., 9:30am-6pm Sun.), in a magnificent neoclassical building that originally opened as the Royal Bank in 1909. It holds a comprehensive collection of fiction and nonfiction titles related to Victoria, the island, and Canada in general.

Munro’s may be the grandest bookstore in town, but it’s not the largest. That distinction goes to Chapters (1212 Douglas St., 250/380- 9009, 8am-11pm Mon.-Sat., 9am-11pm Sun.).

In seaside Oak Bay, Ivy’s Bookshop (2188 Oak Bay Ave., 250/598-2713, 9:30am-6pm Mon.-Sat., noon-5pm Sun.) is a friendly little spot with a wide-ranging selection from local literature to current bestsellers.

Bibliophiles the world over are familiar with Abe Books, a website devoted to helping book lovers find used and rare books. What they probably don’t know is that the conglomerate had its humble roots in Victoria (the company was started by two local couples in 1996, one of whom owned a secondhand bookstore in the western suburb of Colwood). Ironically, the success of Abe Books has led to the closure of many local used bookstores, as has happened the world over, but one that remains is Russell Books (734 Fort St., 250/361-4447, 9am-6pm Mon.-Sat., 11am-5pm Sun.), specializing in rare regional and nautical titles.

A suburban bookstore of note, this one specializing in general used books, is James Bay Coffee and Books (143 Menzies St., 250/386- 4700, 7:30am-9pm Mon.-Sat., 8am-9pm Sun.). A huge selection of used books is only part of the appeal, as you can order familiar breakfasts and lunches, surf the Internet for free, and enjoy live music on Friday evenings. To get there from downtown, follow Menzies Street south from the Inner Harbour for five blocks.

Map of Downtown Victoria, BC

Downtown Victoria


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Vancouver & Victoria.

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