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Uptown Saint John: Good for the soul.


Digging through the crates at Backstreet Records on Germain Street.

By Michael Hawkins

Backstreet records has been in the heart of every local musician and music fan since it first set up shop in Uptown Saint John back in 1980.

It was one of the businesses that first caught my attention when I moved to the region back in 1997 and was one of the reasons I felt I’d be comfortable calling this place my new home.

Most of the rest of the businesses that made that great first impression for me back in the 90s were Uptown as well. Those cool little shops, staffed by interesting, engaging and sometimes eccentric people that make for a vibrant, creative and fun place to work and play.

And so, nearly 16 years later, I was given the task of sharing my continuing love for Uptown Saint John and was even given a hundred bucks to do it, as part of Uptown Saint John’s “sevenUp” campaign.

A cool hundred can score you a stack of great stuff at Backstreet but I had to hold back and spread the wealth elsewhere. I did end up, however, with a double LP by the band War (you remember that tune – “what is is good for…”) that I had never seen before.  I thought I had the whole catalog from that era!

I’ll be back shortly to clean out a good chunk of the new “Funk Soul” crate, unless of course you beat me to it.  Incidentally, that crate has two new copies of Parliament’s Mothership Connection which every man, woman and child should have a copy of.

Having a chat with owner Gordie Tufts is a great way to rejuvenate the music fan that’s inside all of us.  Gordie’s a local-music-supporting legend in the area and his love for his job and his business are still evident every time you walk in to Backstreet.

From there it was onto a new addition to the creative scene in Saint John, Harrison House Gallery at 38 Coburg Street.  Filling several rooms in one of Saint John’s classic old buildings, this gallery is a feast for the eyes as it features the original works of a variety of local artists.  Here you can find some original works for under $100 but this is also a place where you can invest in some truly great artwork.


Harrison House Gallery also offers a number of different classes on painting, photo editing and even some language classes.  Painting classes are $40 each or $200 for a six-session beginner’s course.  I’ve been wanting to get started in painting for years so this might finally be my entry into it.

While there, I did pick up three cards featuring the works of Quispamsis artist Monica Ewart of Wildflower Studio, which are 1 for $5 or 3 for $9.

My next stop was Linja Oriental Foods and Gifts in the Saint John City Market.  This little stall at the bottom of the market has always been special to me as a foodie.  In the Greater Saint John area we now have some pretty good opportunities to get our hands on some great, interesting ingredients but when I moved here in the late 90s, the pickin’s were pretty slim. I think Linja deserves a medal for pushing vermicelli noodles, fish sauce, shiitake mushrooms and miso paste on the Saint John masses long before anybody else.

I still make a point to stop by every time I’m in the market as the stock, like most independant businesses Uptown, is ever-changing and always has something new for you.

On my most recent visit, I got my favourite wide rice vermicelli noodles that I use for making Pad Thai, as well as a package of yakisoba noodles that come in handy for late night cravings and a package of Chinese sausage.  The Chinese sausage and several other foods such as miso paste and homemade wontons, are kept in a refrigerator in the back so you’ll have to ask for them.  Good to know!


The Saint John City Market

Just a short walk up the aisle from Linja, my next stop would be to replenish my supply of one of the world’s healthiest foods.  Seriously, do a google search for “world’s healthiest food” and you’ll see several thousand hits for kimchi.

I’ve had many different kimchi’s and have even made it on my own a few times, but the kimchi from Kim’s Korean in the City Market is easily my favourite. I usually buy the big $8 jar but the last time I was in I noticed they now even sell it in an even larger container for $14. The spiced and fermented cabbage condiment is a bit of an acquired taste for some but I absolutely love the stuff.


Great with any Asian-inspired meal as a condiment but also great on its own, right out of the jar, sprinkled with some sesame seeds.  A warning though, it’s best eaten at home as the smell can be funkier than the Funk Soul crate at Backstreet records.

Continuing on through the inside connection – one of the great features of the Uptown shopping experience – I wanted to stop by a couple of shops in Brunswick Square.

Lil Shoppe of Science on the lower level of the Uptown mall is a favourite with my seven-year-old daughter for obvious reasons. But I love that it’s full of toys, games and other items that have (mostly) some educational or otherwise redeeming value for kids.  They’re the kind of toys that parents have an easier time living with, as opposed to the Furbies and Barbies of the world.  And as is common with the Uptown community of small businesses, the staff here know their stock and are very helpful to find you what you’re looking for.  I had the idea of buying a chess set for my daughter as she recently joined a chess club at her school.  Lil Shoppe of Science had a “magnetic” chess set in stock for just $15.

Taking a walk next door, it’s a foodie’s paradise at Decor8.  This little shop has an ever-evolving stock of all things for the kitchen so I’m in every so often to check it out.  I really love the Good Grips line of products, which Decor8 seems to have a great selection of. I ended up with a $20 Good Grips salad dressing shaker, which thankfully ends the need for a bowl and whisk to make salad dressing.  Major score in my books.

I’ll be back as soon as possible to pick up one of Decor8′s drool-inducing All Clad fry pans, a frying pan that will change your life.

Another Uptown business I had never had the chance to visit before was Eastward Sales Ltd. at 150 Union Street. I’ve always noticed the variety of artist’s paint supplies in the window as I’ve driven by but had never stopped in.  Eastward Sales Ltd. is a major printing operation offering printing, laminating and a host of other services but they also have a cool little retail section at the front of their space with all manner of supplies for painters, potters and other creative types.


I found a great set of water colour tube paints, brushes and canvass for just $16 and a set of oil pastels for just $3.20. At the cash I was told I even get a 10 per cent “artists” discount .

Well, if I’m an artist then that settles it, I’ll have to go back to Harrison House Gallery for those painting lessons.