Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Sha-la-la, stop right where you are, don't you move a thing

The Somerset Theatre was one of those great old single-screen movie palaces I miss so much. Unlike most such sadly-lost treasures around Ottawa, however, it lasted long enough that I saw a single show there shortly before it closed. It was July 1, 1999; I saw The Phantom Menace there for the third time, with my parents. (This was during a period when I was still trying to convince myself that Episode I - and the prequel trilogy as a whole - was, in fact, worthy of being seen multiple times. I haven't watched it since, despite buying the DVD for some reason.) It was a fairly nice place, despite being renovated inside to the standard 80's movie theatre style - patterned carpets, too many neon lights, ugly and uncomfortable seats. When the Somerset Theatre closed in 2000, Hartman's grocery store bought the building and site. It laid vacant for four years, a sad and empty husk. Hartman's has occupied parts of the lot at the corner of Bank and Somerset - next to the site of the old Somerset - for nearly forty years, if I remember my local history correctly. The current building's exterior demonstrates the piecemeal assembly and expansion of the store over the years; the Bank Street facade is composed of a former Bank of Montreal, a two-story house, and a bricked exterior joining the two together. The interior also always belied a puzzle-like construction of multiple buildings into a single story, with not-quite-even seams in the linoleum flooring, and narrow, oddly-shaped aisles. I first became familiar with Hartman's when I spent a co-op term during high school at Amberwood Productions, an animation studio then situated at 400-404 Maclaren St., behind the grocery store parking lot. We production assistants had a supervisor fond of buying fresh cookies from their bakery, and would most every day send one of us to pick up a box. Accustomed to huge suburban big-box grocery stores, I found Hartman's somewhat charming, if in a declassé manner. Comfort with it was part of what made moving to my current location, several blocks away, so appealing.
In April of this year, the Somerset was demolished, and construction began on the most ambitious Hartman's expansion yet: a full-sized modern grocery store for Centretown. Lowertown got one several years ago with the giant Loblaws on Rideau, which is wonderful, but still inconvenient. Yesterday the expansion opened. Today I saw the inside for the first time. It's glorious. It boggles my mind to see the warehouse-style ceilings, and for that matter such a huge store in general, where it is; even with five storeys of luxury condos above the store itself and a parking garage below, that much wasted space has to hurt, property values in Centretown being what they are. But more than that, it's just so clean. Spotless, even. Huge wide aisles, no strange corners, no mysterious stains on the floor; a bright and inviting space where buying raw meat doesn't seem oh-so-slightly iffy. I like to think I'm fairly astute in not falling prey to simple marketing and design tricks, despite being the consumer whore I am, but I was still itching to buy unnecessaries simply because the store was so beautiful. I no longer have to go to Loblaws merely to shop in a less charming-slash-dingy environment. I like that. Now, if only Hartman's prices were as reasonable...

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