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The Times Shopper

Montreal's Rue St. Denis Storekeepers Thriving

May 11, 1986|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer.

Rue St. Denis is one of Montreal's fastest-growing shopping streets. In the last five years, more than 100 new boutiques and shops have opened along this mile-long commercial showplace.

The stores occupy the first and second floors of Georgian and Victorian buildings, which a century ago were the homes of Montreal's wealthy and fashionable citizenry. Storefronts are continually redecorated and new businesses move in frequently. Change occurs so quickly, in fact, that some Montrealers visit the street weekly to keep up with developments.

The street runs through one of Montreal's more bohemian areas, stretching between Laurier and Ste. Catherine, and has two distinct sections. Upper Rue St. Denis, between St. Louis Square (just north of Sherbrooke Street) and Mount Royal Avenue, has an elegant tone and some of the best shops. Lower St. Denis Street, between Sherbrooke and Ste. Catherine, is funkier. Known since the 1920s as the Latin Quarter, this three-block stretch is near the University of Quebec. Many of its shops, bars and restaurants cater to students and are a bit boisterous, but usually inexpensive.

Cultural Institutions

Rue St. Denis is also headquarters to two Canadian cultural institutions. The presence of Les Grand Ballets Canadiens and Theatre du Rideau Vert establishes the street's ambiance by attracting artists, intellectuals and professionals. You'll find an abundance of cafes and bistros where people gather for victuals and conversation. Decor is trendy and tasteful, service is friendly and, best of all, these places are not expensive.

The shops of Rue St. Denis offer a broad range of wearables and housewares, interesting assortments of antique and high-tech furniture, arts and crafts, punk and posh attire.

Many of the shops feature locally designed and manufactured goods, so that even in stores selling ordinary hardware for the home, cooking utensils or office accessories, you'll find items that have a slightly different, fresh look. Scattered among these Quebec-made goods are European imports, mostly French and handpicked by shopkeepers to provide their clientele with alternatives to the locally made merchandise. The Canadian dollar isn't particularly strong, so importers are usually cost-conscious in their product selections. With American dollars, you can get some great buys.

One store where this is particularly true is Arthur Quentin Antiquities at 3960 Rue St. Denis. While the store does offer antique items (mostly Canadian country), there are also samples of contemporary home accessories, mostly with an old-fashioned air about them. The emphasis is on good quality at reasonable prices. Look especially at the French imported tableware. It is simple in line, but comes in an array of colors: aqua, yellow, sky blue, gray, pink and beige to be mixed or matched (plates, $6.75; cups and saucers, $8.25; serving pieces, $7.50 to $27).

Pink Enamel Trivets

There are enamel trivets in bright pink ($25), with matching serving trays ($10-15). Quentin's selection of goods includes personal items, such as umbrellas with detailed duck head handles out of brass ($80), and leather items ranging from wallets ($28) to suitcases ($220 for carry-on size; $350, large size). Desk accessories include brass rulers ($3.50), and fountain pens ($29 and up), desk lamps with green glass shades and an admirable supply of writing papers.

Arthur Quentin is one of the oldest of the new boutiques on Rue St. Denis. The shop was opened in 1976 by Marise Cantin, and was so successful that a second store, Bleu Nuit, at 3919 Rue St. Denis, was opened four years later. Bleu Nuit is a haven for bedding and bath buffs. The shop's fluffy lightweight-but-warm comforters are encased in satin-smooth French sheeting (about $100, twin size). Bath accessories include mustache trimmers ($25) and combs crafted of horn ($10-30). For children, there are cuddly terry cloth robes ($35-50).

Fine Quebec decorative handicrafts are the specialty at Metamorphose (4012 Rue St. Denis). With many one-of-a-kind items, the store's stock changes frequently. On display are usually several tapestries, often abstract or geometric in design, and other weavings (prices range from $400 up). There are pewter serving pieces for the table (from $80). Assorted local pottery, woodcarvings, enameled jewelry and batik complete the collection. The work is of superior quality and worth a look.

Rue St. Denis is so trendy that even the antique stores reflect what has newly returned to vogue. Several years ago, much of the merchandise sold at Tango might have been called junk. It is now Art Deco and very much a la mode. Tango, at 3903 Rue St. Denis, has created an attention-getting setting for recycled period items. A three-story pink stucco building houses this array of furniture and objets d'art.

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