Grocery store dims lights, reduces noise for sensitive folks

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From 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Mondays, a grocery store in Arnprior, Ont., dims the lights, turns off the intercom and asks staff not to wear scents — all to create a « sensory-friendly shopping experience » for people with special needs.

No Frills franchise owner Mark Harrison has two children on the autism spectrum and knows first-hand some people struggle with sensitivities to bright light, noise and other things.

« It can be very disorienting for them. It can make the experience of basic shopping just horrible. So if we can offer a bit of a calmer experience with less lights and less noise, then it’s a win for everybody, » Harrison said.

« There’s been an overwhelming amount of feedback, which has been great … To take care of the people in town is a huge thing, and to get other people involved to take care of their communities is even better. »

Harrison said the first go-around on Feb. 4 was such a success, the store will experiment with offering the same thing on Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

He said other No Frills stores in the area have shown interest in doing something similar.

Refrigerated aisles like these are normally quite bright, with lights illuminating the products on each row, but they’re being turned off at the No Frills in Arnprior, Ont., at certain times on Mondays and Tuesdays. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

Harrison got the idea from employee Carol Greer, who read about something similar being offered at a different store in Truro, N.S., and forwarded it to her boss.

« I just thought it was a good way to be able to bring it out into our community and [raise] awareness of it, » Greer said.

« People have been saying that they really appreciate the calmer environment. »

Carol Greer came across a social media post about a store in Nova Scotia offering a similar service for people with sensory sensitivities and forwarded it to her boss. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

One such customer is Amanda Rietschlin.

« My son actually has autism, so I think it’s very cool because I know it can be overwhelming … I’m really happy to see that they’re being really inclusive and really thinking of everyone who’s out there, » she said.

Customer Amanda Rietschlin has a son with autism, and said she’s excited for families with young children to take advantage of the program. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

Her son is a teen now, but she’s excited for families with younger children to take advantage.

« It would have made a big difference for our family, because we could all go out, he could come out and see all the different fruits and he could pick things that he likes, » Rietschlin said.

« For a family with small children, I think it would be really great. »

No bright lights, no loud announcements, it’s grocery shopping that’s easy on the senses. We visit the Arnprior No Frills, where they’ve introduced new measures to help those with special sensitivities. 7:04

‘People like [my son] matter’

Another happy customer is Marc Bissonnette, who is deaf in one ear and experiences static sounds in loud environments.

He has a son with a syndrome that causes sensory overload issues. 

Customer Marc Bissonnette is deaf in one ear, and has a son with a syndrome that causes sensory overload issues. He said he was ‘touched’ by the store’s new policy. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

« To hear that a store would actually do something for people like my son, I can honestly say I’ve never heard of that, ever. So when Mark made this announcement, I’m like … people like [my son] matter, » Bissonnette said.

« The only reason you do something like this is to be a genuinely nice guy, and it just touched my heart. »

Arnprior is about 65 kilometres west of downtown Ottawa.

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Rain or shine, this year’s Cavalcade of Lights remains radiant

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This year’s Cavalcade of Lights shone at Nathan Phillips Square Saturday night, overcoming the damp conditions to continue a more-than 50-year tradition.

The event, a favourite among Torontonians, dates back to 1967. It kicks off the holiday season with the first lighting of the city’s Official Christmas Tree and lighting display at Nathan Phillips Square. Saturday also marked the opening of the rink outside Toronto City Hall and those at dozens of other across the city. More info on the rinks’ hours and locations can be found on the city’s website.

Emerald Bensadoun is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @twerk_vonnegut

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El Mocambo sign lights up the night as snow tumbles down

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You can keep your jokes about politicians who will show up to the opening of an envelope. In this town, the mayor will show up to the flipping of a light switch. If it’s the right switch, for the right lights.

On Thursday night on Spadina Avenue, the velvet ropes were set up on the sidewalk just south of College, and a crowd of people had started to form in clusters of three or four. A steady parade of Cadillac Escalades and Porsche Carrerras pulled to the curb — and some Honda Civics and a Dodge Grand Caravan too — to drop off women in short sparkly skirts and men in cowboy boots and velvet jackets.

The El Mocambo sign on Spadina is lit up again after a ceremony during last night’s snowfall.
The El Mocambo sign on Spadina is lit up again after a ceremony during last night’s snowfall.  (RenÉ Johnston / Toronto Star)

Speakers set up on the sidewalk played a 35-year-old U2 song. “I saw them here!” one woman said.

Another man, with a woman and young child, was walking by and asked who was playing tonight. “No one’s playing,” he was told. They were just planning to relight the neon sign.

“Ah,” he said, smiling and nodding that it was an obvious enough reason for the buzz. Then he said, to his own child as much as to the stranger in front of him, “This is a legendary music venue, The El Mocambo.”

The music historian Nicholas Jennings posted on Facebook this week that the first band to play at the El Mocambo when it opened on March 23, 1948 was a “light jazz combo” called the Ambassador’s Trio. He posted early ads for the bar when it was billed as “a bit of Mexico in Toronto,” a bill from the late 1950s featuring an all-girls singing group called “The Coquettes Quartet” and a “Big Irish Night” lineup from 1965.

The new façade of the under-renovation venue says “Keeping live alive since 1948,” and clearly the history goes way back. The legend most Torontonians under about age 80 are more familiar with is a bit more rock ’n’ roll. This is the place the Rolling Stones recorded a live album — not just them, but Elvis Costello, Stevie Ray Vaughan, April Wine. The Ramones played here. Tom Waits. And U2, like the lady says.

In the 1980s and 1990s, it was also a place a where your buddy from English class might have a gig with his punk band. And the night after you saw him, you might see the hottest local indie act. There was something special in exactly that mix: it hosted legends, yes, but was also home to local scenesters and wannabes and never-weres.

It was shuttered in 2014, a broke bar in a broken down building that was going to become a computer store or something. But Eccentric Billionaire Michael Wekerle bought it, promising to restore it to its former glory.

Four years later, it isn’t ready to reopen yet. But the sign is back.

We love our old signs in this city. I’m old enough to remember the outcry when it briefly seemed Fairmont was planning to take the words “Royal York” off the front of the then-skyline-defining hotel. We have a connection to the neon and the bulbs that spell out our memories of the places that have defined our neighbourhoods.

Lately there’s been a trend to save signs from the trash bin: I reported live from the dismantling of the thousands-of-points-of-lightbulbs at Honest Ed’s, to be reinstalled later on a different building. I wrote about the relighting of the Sam The Record Man spinning discs in January this year, now high above Dundas Square.

But this one is special: The palm tree spelling out EL MOCAMBO in yellow neon along its trunk, the flashing white leaves surrounding purple coconuts and a crescent-moon that may be a banana.

It’s special because of that legendary history. And because it’s actually back here in its original spot at 464 Spadina. But mostly because its restoration and reinstallation anticipates the reopening of the El Mo, renovated and soundproofed and ready to rock again, sometime next spring.

The crowd on the street Thursday night had swelled to more than a hundred as the falling snow accumulated. Everyone laughed when a car collided with a parked police car at the curb. Then, shortly after 7 p.m., Eccentric Billionaire Michael Wekerle himself appeared behind the velvet ropes, wearing a green fur coat and pink gloves and sunglasses. He was bouncing up on the balls of his feet and beaming, shaking hands with the crowd and shouting about how great it all was. He pointed and called out to people in the crowd — “Andy Kim!” — and called the boxer George Chuvalo up to stand next to him. And then, speaking a mile a minute into the microphone, he promised a new great beginning for Canadian music artists, and then introduced the mayor.

“Thank you,” John Tory said to his host, and to the crowd. “If Michael Wekerle hadn’t had the determination, and frankly the money, we wouldn’t be here,” he said. Music is important, he said, bringing people together in a city where they may not share the same language, but can dance to the same beat. “Here’s to the El Mo,” he said, “and to many years of success.”

Then the crowd there on the street counted down from 10, as if it were New Year’s Eve. When they reached one, they all shouted “El Mo!” and the lights came on, purple and green and yellow and white. The familiar opening guitar chords of the Rolling Stones “Start Me Up” came through the speakers. Everyone cheered, many took photos.

A few in the crowd even started dancing in the snow, while others began to make their way around the corner to a private party being held in a back alley to celebrate. A man in a parka and toque smiled and jumped in the air, and shouted. “Rock and roll, baby!”

Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire

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All flights cancelled Sunday evening at Fredericton airport as runway lights fail

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All flights coming in to and out of Fredericton International Airport are cancelled Sunday evening because its runway lights are out — and service won’t resume until Monday morning at the earliest. 

« We have had an electrical fault and unfortunately it’s underground. And as you can imagine, we have kilometres and kilometres of wiring out there with the two runways, » said Kate O’Rourke, communications officer for the Fredericton International Airport Authority.

« The electrical crews have been working on that, trying very hard to identify where it is to get those lights up and running. »

It’s unclear what caused the damage to the underground wires, but New Brunswick was hit with a wind storm that knocked out power to tens of thousands of customers Saturday night into Sunday.

The airport building lost power, but it’s currently running on a backup generator.

The last flight to land came from Montreal at 4:54 p.m.

O’Rourke said flights are able to take off and land during the day under visual flight rules (VFR).

It’s unclear when power will be restored to the runway lights.

Some departing flights in the morning are cancelled as well, O’Rourke said, because the planes couldn’t land Sunday evening.

O’Rourke recommends passengers get in touch with their airlines to find out about flight statuses.

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