Québec has a long history with commerce. As the site of the first settlement in New France, its entire founding was based on trade with the Amerindians, and as the colony grew, trade became vital to its survival. Its genetic makeup as a commercial city is still apparent, and over the centuries it has created some of Canada’s most recognized stores and brands.
Many of those same stores exist today. Holt Renfrew, La Maison Simons, and J. A. Moisan (the oldest grocery store in North America) are businesses that first bloomed in Québec and whose rich past can still be seen when you enter their establishments.
ith all that history, however, it’s important to have something new, and the revival of rue St-Joseph in Saint-Roch has been one of the most important developments of the past few years. The area was abandoned by businesses that opted for the malls of the late 1950s, but new customers and retailers are now emerging in the area. Filled with young, modern stores and independent boutiques, it has given the city a much-needed boost of cool. Rue St-Jean, outside of the walls, is experiencing a similar rejuvenation, with youthful stores popping up, many with an eye on local products and design.
Unlike most major Canadian cities, when it comes to the downtown core, Québec sticks to its roots. Here, stores like H&M, Gap, and Zara are relegated to the malls, about a 15-minute drive away. Though some chains can be found (mostly in Upper Town), they are few and far between. Instead, the historic houses and beautiful Beaux-Arts buildings are small independent boutiques or established businesses.If you’re on the hunt for antiques, look no further than the narrow cobblestone rue St-Paul, where just about every other store is dedicated to antiques.There are independent jewelry stores throughout Québec City. Rue Petit-Champlain has a good mix of high-end and more artsy offerings. In fact, these are the two main kinds of jewelry stores found all over the city: super kitsch costume jewelry and high-end designer pieces. One thing that remains the same in upscale or costume jewelry is that it’s all handcrafted.
If you’re on the hunt for antiques, look no further than the narrow cobblestone rue St-Paul, where just about every other store is dedicated to antiques. If you’re looking for something specific, it’s best to pop into them all. Just about every single store is stocked full of everything from antique bedposts to silverware.
Though Québec doesn’t have crafts in the traditional sense, there is a certain aesthetic found in the various artisanal works. A mix of materials is one element, as is an unexpected juxtaposition of colors and shapes. Inuit art, though not exclusive to the province, can also be found in a number of arts and craft shops, since northern Québec is home to many native and Inuit tribes.
If you’re looking for a relaxing massage or facial, look no further than your hotel: Most have exquisite facilities. For those that don’t, there are a few spas within the city that offer everything from quick therapeutic massages to daylong adventures in pampering.
Unlike in Montréal, English books are hard to come by in Québec City. Although most hotels carry a few national and international English-language papers, finding anything more than a bestseller can be tough. Magazines, however, are much easier to find, and both European and North American versions are readily available. If you want to pick up some vintage Félix Leclerc after an inspiring night at a boîte à chansons, head along rue St-Jean, where you’ll find both new and used vinyl and CDs. The implosion of the record industry has been tough on Québec’s independent music stores, but a few gems remain.
Many of the stores that line the streets of Vieux-Québec’s Upper and Lower Town cater to tourists. Though many of them strive to have their own personality, a lot blend into one another. The stores included in this chapter, however, all offer something a bit different and less well known.
It’s not surprising that in a city so defined by its food, its best markets revolve around farmers and fresh produce. And though winters can be harsh, the farmers markets keep going all year long.
Québec City spends at least six months out of the year under snow, so that may explain why there are two stores dedicated entirely to Christmas decorations. Situated kitty-corner to each other, snowy landscape or not, these places are packed even in the summer.
In high tourist season during the summer, boutiques in Upper and Lower Town stay open late, some even as late as midnight, if the crowds are still out. In winter, stores often close early, or for months at a time, depending on the nature of their business. If there’s a store you particularly want to visit, it’s always best to call ahead, especially in the off-season.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Montréal & Québec City.