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By: Sam Marchetti  

When you think of downtown Hamilton, I wouldn’t be surprised if the first thought that comes to mind is “sketchy.” Downtown, specifically along King Street and anywhere east of Queen Street North, has often been considered as a run-down ghost of what was once a thriving, central hub.

Centered around the Jackson Square complex, my mother — a born-and-raised Hamiltonian — has told me many stories of how she and her friends used to hang around the area. The mall was initially built as an attraction for residents across the city, and for a short time, it was just that.

Now, however, it feels like that same downtown area is only a hub for the homeless and the number of clubs that exist nearby. If anyone heads to downtown Hamilton, it’s usually to visit Locke Street South or James Street North, where one can typically find highly-recommended restaurants and quaint little spots, and avoid the much less recommended walk along King Street. But is King Street really so bad? Is that downtown stretch so vastly different from how it used to and was intended to be?

I would argue it’s not. Hidden behind the stigma of being run-down, there are some great, welcoming spots in downtown. In the east end, if you walk west down King, you’ll soon find 1UP Games. This retro video game store may look in-need of a facelift, but upon entry you are greeted instantly by one of the many employees that can recommend a game or tell you about one of the many events the store runs.

To highlight how welcoming this store is, my brother, a 23-year-old-man with special needs visited the shop this past Sunday. Due to his learning curve, my brother has never really excelled at or even enjoyed many video games. However, not only was he welcomed, he was given valuable assistance and taught how to play by the community, and he now plans to return as often as possible.

For a fancier vibe, you can continue down to James Street North and head north for one block to King William Street. Although this isn’t exactly on King, you can find a stretch of nice restaurants and just across from Club Absinthe, you find Mezza, a great little Italian cafe with some high-quality pastries and drinks.

Even going inside Jackson Square, you can find two of my favourite spots. First, Landmark Cinemas, which has perhaps the nicest luxury seating I’ve ever experienced in a movie theatre. Picture full-motorized reclining seats in pairs of two, absolutely amazing for a date.

Then there’s Nations, a grocery store which contains some of the most unique items I’ve ever seen. Going into Nations is akin to being transported around the world in about 30 minutes. You can buy fresh fish and produce from around the world, as well as pre-packaged products only found on other continents and my personal favourite, Chinese-style roasted peanuts.

None of these places are particularly “sketchy” or run-down; in fact, all of them are fairly well-kept and are run by friendly, enthusiastic staff who you could not feel more comfortable around. For students it’s definitely worth a look! Perhaps you’ll end up changing your definition of downtown Hamilton.

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