Nokomis, We’ll Miss You

When I heard the news that Edmonton’s Nokomis Clothing would be closing at the end of January, I was more than a little sad. The store has long been one of my favourite places in the city to find both clothing and inspiration. Owner Jessica Kennedy states that economics are the reason for Nokomis’ closure, the recession making it no longer feasible to keep the store open and running. Nokomis is known for stocking exclusively Canadian made and designed clothing — including its own house line up until Fall 2009 — and in its eight years of existence, it has become a fixture in the Canadian independent fashion scene. The store has provided an artistic, friendly place for independent Canadian designers (and publications like WORN) to reach the Edmonton market.

Nokomis, you will be missed. Thank you for being so great at doing what you did.

- Hailey Siracky

Small-Town Secondhand: A Tribute to the Elk Island Thrift Store

The last time my mom made the drive from our small prairie town to visit me at university, she brought some bad news.

“Hailey,” she said, gravely. “The thrift store is closing.”

Witnesses say the look on my face would have made the devil himself feel sorry for me.

* * * * *

I have a serious attachment to the Elk Island Thrift Store. It opened the in the spring of my Grade 11 year, in the midst of a particularly awkward phase of my existence. Being sixteen in a small town is difficult in that your pool of peers is very small and fairly homogeneous. Sometimes it seems like the only way to survive is to try to be like everybody else, and even if you’re not called out for being different, the tiniest deviation from the norm is painfully obvious. For a girl who had little interest in the jeans-and-t-shirts norm, but who was also fairly shy and uneasy with attention, getting dressed felt like a struggle between wearing what I liked and trying to blend in. Until the thrift store opened, my decisions were simple in that my fashion resources were scant. But then -

It started with a small collection of secretary blouses. These became a staple in my high-school wardrobe. I wore them often with jeans and a pair of fairly enormous boots. I began, also, to build a collection of oversized sweaters, usually with crazy patterns. One of my favourite items was a cream-coloured cardigan, crocheted (I think?) with an intricate pattern around the collar. A year after I bought it, I wore it to my art class and got paint smeared on the sleeve. It wouldn’t come out, but I wore the sweater anyway – and even now, I cannot bear to part with it. Sometimes I push up the sleeves and hope nobody notices, and other times I wear the sleeves down and hope nobody cares.
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one person’s junque…

When I climbed down the creaky stairs into the Junque Cellar’s basement location, I had my heart set on an adventure. It was a Friday afternoon and Reading Week stretched ahead of me, all possibility and promise. I had been into the store many times before – for me, it’s always been the sort of place you enjoy the most when you’re not looking for anything in particular and are in the mood to be amused or enchanted or some fun combination of the two. On this particular afternoon, I was hoping for exactly that – and I found it.

The Junque Cellar, located on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue, has been a fixture in Old Strathcona since 1993. It carries a mix of antique furniture, secondhand clothing, used books and all sorts of retro knickknacks. There is always something to catch your attention, whether it’s a rotary phone or a case full of costume jewelry or a copy of LIFE magazine from 1973. The majority of its merchandise comes from auction sales, estate sales, or from independent consignors. The sheer amount of stuff packed into its basement room is initially overwhelming, but with a little time and patience, it quickly becomes exercise in treasure hunting.

The treasure I found this time was a box of old photographs. I almost didn’t see them at all. Although they were displayed in plain sight, I was too distracted by typewriters and vintage cameras and pillbox hats to notice them until I was about to leave the store. Given to the Junque Cellar by a consignor, the photos ranged from the turn of the century until about the 1970’s. According to the salesperson, the consignor who brought the photos to the store was of no relation to the people in them.

I was immediately fascinated. I love photography of all kinds, but more than that, I love the idea of any sort of history. One of my favourite things about vintage clothing is the idea that the clothes I’m wearing had a life before they were mine. These pictures intrigued me because they were real-live evidence of exactly that, in the eras whose clothing I love the most – eras I’ve always longed to have lived in myself.

But the whole thing was saddening, too. Any number of circumstances could have separated these photos from the people they belonged to, and the events that brought them to the Junque Cellar may very well have been completely un-tragic. (I tend to imagine drama all the time.) But as I picked each photo up, and flipped it over to see the carefully handwritten dates and descriptions on the back, I couldn’t help being a little bit upset by the fact that all of these snapshots – that obviously meant a lot to somebody at some time – now had nobody to remember them for what they originally were.

I ended up leaving the store with a small stack of pictures. I know they will never mean the same things to me as they did to the people who took them – but I also know that I can love them and learn from them anyway. I can’t add memories to old photos the way I can to old clothing, but I can appreciate the meaning these photos must have had for someone.

And I can hope that someday, when I’m in my later years, I will wear a cute dress and laugh in the sunshine and somebody will notice that moment and freeze it in time.

- Hailey Siracky

Nokomis: A Dreamy Little Corner of Edmonton

Walking into Nokomis is always a bit like stepping into a storybook for grown-ups – if you’re the kind of grown-up who lives for tea parties, fairy tales, quiet corners, and playing dress-up.

Tucked into the century-old Griffith Block in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona, the store is full of artfully arranged rows and stacks of dresses, skirts, blouses, pants, shoes, jewelry, scarves, belts, bags and oh so many things in between. (Nokomis carries WORN, too!)

The last time I visited, on a windy weekday afternoon, co-owner Jessica Kennedy greeted me warmly and encouraged me to roam around and take pictures. The soundtrack to the movie Amélie was playing on the stereo, and with a creaky wood floor underfoot and surrounded by well-crafted, Canadian-made clothing, I was convinced I had entered my own personal, dress-filled dream world. I wondered what they would say if I decided just to never, ever leave.

When I go to Nokomis, it is always with a mission. Its seductive powers are such that, without a definite goal in mind, I am at risk of leaving having purchased the whole entire store – which would be happy for my closet but sad for my wallet. The deal I have worked out with myself is this: If I need something especially wonderful – to wear to a wedding, a party, a fancy dinner – Nokomis will be one of my first stops.

Of course, sometimes I break my own rules. (Often enough that, really, they’re not actually rules so much as nice ideas.) But every decision that ends in me carrying out one of their hand-sewn, raven-printed bags is never a decision I regret.

Nokomis is the Ojibwa word for grandmother – and as a tribute to its name, the west wall of the store is covered in photos of customers’ grandmothers, each in a simple wooden frame. If you come bring in a picture of your grandmother for the wall, you get ten percent off your purchase – and if you bring in pictures of both of your grandmothers, you get twenty.

Not only is Nokomis the name of the store itself, but it is also the name of the clothing line designed by Elizabeth Hudson (who runs the studio while Jessica runs the store). Their website defines the Nokomis line as, “pretty frocks for girls who read books.” Some of my favourite dresses have been from here – when I wear them, I always feel elegant, feminine and ready for a tea party.

Recently, on the Nokomis blog, Jessica and Elizabeth have announced that they are closing production on the house line, and that Fall 2009 will be its final season. The store will remain open, and will still carry all of its other usual, independent Canadian clothing lines – readers of the WORN blog might recognize complexgeometries, Supayana, and Norwegian Wood, among others – but after this fall, their house line will cease to be. The announcement saddened me, because I’ve become a big fan of the Nokomis label and all its lovely dresses. But, then, this is definitely an occasion special enough to warrant another mission of the seek-and-dress-up variety.

- Hailey Siracky