There was a time in days gone by when shopping experiences didn’t come in a big box.

It was a time when downtown thoroughfares like Halifax’s Spring Garden Road and Barrington Street rang with the sounds of bustling shoppers.

Those days are returning, according to Ivy Ho, the communications director at the Downtown Halifax Business Commission.

According to Ho, Downtown Halifax offers something with which even the big-box stores can’t compete.

“We’re selling an experience,” says Ho. “There’s a different feel to downtown that you don’t get at a shopping mall.”

She points to a long list of new shops, restaurants and businesses that have been re-energizing the historic end of Barrington Street in recent year.

There are unique shops like Oddjects, which combines furniture shopping with a café, and a new wine bar, Obladee, which opened to rave reviews and a packed house in October.

The downtown core is even attracting a few businesses away from big-box land.

Tao The Adventure Outfitters is one of them.

Recently, the outdoor-equipment-and-clothing store made the move from its location in the Bayers Lake Business Park to the historic Freemason building at the corner of Salter and Granville Streets.

It’s now a tent pole away from its major competitor, Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Tao manager Ryan Donkersgoed says the move has been good for business.

“A lot of outdoor retailers congregate together,”?he says. “We become a destination for people looking for our type of products, and the competition isn’t a bad thing.

“We co-operate with MEC by sending customers their way if we can’t meet their needs, and they do the same for us.”

Contemporary-furniture boutique Attica is a pioneer of the downtown revival.

It has been located in downtown Halifax since it opened 15 years ago.

Owner Suzanne Saul believes Barrington Street is a perfect fit for the trendsetting store.

“There’s a real vibe to downtown,” says Saul. “There’s an experience that comes with shopping here that you don’t get anywhere else.

“When tourists come to Halifax, the first place they head is downtown.

“Part of the appeal is our beautiful waterfront and the uniqueness of our businesses that attract them.”

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