Goodbye to an iconic western store
By Margaret Evans
A landmark store has closed in downtown Calgary. Riley & McCormick sold western tack and western-style clothing since 1901, before Alberta was incorporated as a province in 1905. But Alberta’s struggling economy and the rising costs of doing business have taken their toll, and the iconic downtown store closed its doors at the end of August.
“We have a wholesale division which will continue, but that’s more business-to-business and corporate selling,” says owner Brian Guichon. “It’s a shame to shut the store in downtown Calgary. It was a tough decision that we had to make but the last couple of years have been really hard due to the economy and rising costs. The [fate of the] store at the airport is undecided as yet.”
The store has been a fixture around the Calgary Stampede since 1912 and, like many local businesses, has traditionally relied on the rodeo’s attendance to bolster summer sales. But this year the event had the worst attendance in 22 years due to torrential rain.
Riley & McCormick was founded in 1901 by partners Eneas McCormick and William James Riley. Doing business in both wholesale and retail, the company excelled in custom-made saddles, boots and leather goods. In 1903 they added a mail order catalogue department to widen their reach.
Riley & McCormick was founded in 1901, before Alberta was incorporated as a province.
Riley retired in 1912 and McCormick took over the business, retaining the original name. The company’s reputation soon began punching above its weight, supplying equipment for the animals at the first “Frontier Days and Cowboy Championship Contest” in 1912, the event that quickly became known as the Calgary Stampede. McCormick cared enough about the contestants to become a founder of the Cowboy Protective Association for the financial benefit of injured rodeo riders.
History frequently knocked on the door of the store. Pioneer missionary Father Lacombe bought supplies for his orphanage; military saddles were ordered for the Russian Cavalry in World War I; Edward, Prince of Wales, equipped his EP Ranch with supplies, and a presentation cowboy outfit was provided for Prince Charles.
After McCormick’s death in 1956, his daughter Mary Isabelle, and son-in-law Urban Guichon, took over the business and grew it to 33 stores by the 1970s. They navigated it through some very tough times during the economic downturn of the 1980s. The Guichon family rebuilt the business with just one remaining store in Calgary. In 2001 the company celebrated its 100th anniversary.
After 115 years, the store located at 205 8 Avenue SW, Calgary closed on August 30, 2016. And with the closing of the iconic store goes a piece of Calgary’s heritage.
This article was originally published in the September/October 2016 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.