Shop Hopping in Victoria

Five unique boutiques that shouldn’t be missed

by John Lee

Victoria’s variety of independent boutiques offer a plethora of tasteful and trendy products, from decadent treats in Fan Tan Alley to original clothing at Lower Johnson Street. Photograph by cnicbc/iStock.

British Columbia’s waterfront capital offers a sparkling shopping list of independent stores for those of us who love adding a spot of retail therapy to our travels. But where exactly should you go—and what should you fill your reusable bags with—when you hit the streets of the Garden City? Just in time for the holidays, check out our five favourite Victoria stores.

The Regional Assembly of Text

Pick up a personalized product from The Regional Assembly of Text. Photograph courtesy of the The Regional Assembly of Text.

Victorians rejoiced a few years back when Vancouver’s favourite retro-cool stationary store opened this tiny satellite branch in the lobby of a heritage building on Lower Johnson Street. The brightly painted, indie-focused shopping strip—aka LoJo—is the perfect spot for this shop’s quirky journals, greetings cards and locally themed souvenirs, including artsy Victoria postcards.

“We design many of our paper products ourselves,” says co-owner Brandy Fedoruk. “And we try to give them a nostalgic, clever and heartfelt feel.”

Visitors can also clackety-clack their own typewriter letters—or fashion some wearable creations: “We have a station set up for designing your own buttons, whether it be a drawing of your cat or a proclamation of your new-found love of kale,” says Fedoruk.

Pure Lovin’ Chocolate

Pure Lovin’ Chocolate offers delicious vegan, gluten-free and soy-free treats at its Fan Tan Alley location. Photograph courtesy of Pure Lovin’ Chocolate.

Fan Tan Alley—a narrow, brick-lined walkway in backstreet Chinatown—is a browser’s paradise of unique boutiques selling everything from boho fashions to well-curated vinyl. But this store lures every sweet tooth in the vicinity with its irresistible house-made treats. Its crafted confections—all vegan, gluten-free and soy-free—include bear paws, sponge candy and tiny choccie teapots.

But it’s the decadent bonbons that treat-lovers keep coming back for, says chocolatier Leah Blackburn, who runs the store with her mother Cyndy. “Our dark chocolate peanut butter cups are a customer favourite,” Blackburn notes, adding that the fleur de sel caramels—chewy, rich caramels dipped in organic fair trade chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt—are also “a definite crowd-pleaser.”

Smoking Lily

Designed and printed in Victoria, Smoking Lily’s clothing is sold at the brand’s Government Street boutique, alongside other original goods. Photograph courtesy of Sheena Davies Photography.

This label fashions brilliantly creative clothing—often silk-printed with images of ocean animals, tigers and botanical items—at its own Victoria studio. But while it formerly sold its art-school-cool togs at a tiny LoJo shop, its newer Government Street boutique offers far more display room. Now, visitors can browse a wider range of original creations, plus curated pottery, jewellery and more from other artisans.

It’s the ethically produced clothes that hook regulars, though. “Our clothing is comfortable and stylish,” says owner and lead designer Trish Tacoma. “They also make you feel good wearing them year after year, so you don’t have to be a trend slave.”

And what should newbies consider first?

“Who doesn’t want a periwinkle blue narwhal screen-print on a black tunic dress?” asks Tacoma.

Pigeonhole Home Store

Budget plenty of time to visit Pigeonhole Home Store, a carefully curated boutique with a regularly rotating stock. Photograph courtesy of Pigeonhole Home Store.

In a renovated storefront on the Oak Bay edge of Fernwood (a hip, hidden gem neighbourhood favoured by artsy locals), this warmly welcoming design store combines carefully chosen antiques with contemporary discoveries from Canada and beyond. Elegant, eclectic and stylish without being pretentious, it’s the five-year-old brainchild of Carey Salvador.

“We regularly rotate the stock,” says Salvador, noting that some of her favourite current items include candles, textiles and kitchenwares––plus wool rugs and skincare lines.

Since the shop is one of those achingly beautiful boutiques where it’s easy to fall in love with multiple items, Salvador recommends plenty of browsing time. “There’s a ‘comfortable home’ feel here, and you need to take it all in at your own speed.”

Silk Road

Inspired by the city’s sea air, Seamist Tea has emerged as a favourite from Silk Road in Victoria. Photograph by Sherri Kostian.

Although Victoria is steeped in tea traditions, this edge-of-Chinatown pioneer has never rested on its leafy laurels. “We have a dazzling selection of teas and tastes, and our ingredients are carefully selected for quality and purity,” says owner Daniela Cubelic, adding they also stock exclusive tea wares and natural bodycare products (there’s even an onsite spa offering green tea facials).

But it’s the kaleidoscopic of beverages that explain why The Globe and Mail called Cubelic Canada’s Queen of Tea. “One of bestsellers, Angelwater Tea, is legendary for its soothing, serene effects,” Cubelic says. “And Seamist Tea [fusing mint with citrus and seaweed notes] was inspired by Victoria’s sea air––it’s a favourite reminder of home among Victorians who have moved away.”