Iconic western-wear business Riley & McCormick to close after 115 years

Riley & McCormick — which is one of Alberta's oldest businesses and was founded before the province was even created, in 1901 as a saddlery — is riding into the sunset.

'We've had a rough go the last couple of years and it's just time,' Brian Guichon says

Riley & McCormick Western Wear is closing its doors on Eighth Avenue downtown after more than 50 years at that location. (Yellow Pages)

This story was originally published Aug. 16.

Calgary's iconic western wear purveyor Riley & McCormick — which is one of Alberta's oldest businesses, founded in 1901 as a saddlery —  is riding into the sunset.

"The costs keep going up and the sales seem to have gone down. We've had a tough couple of years here," owner Brian Guichon told CBC News.

The store on Calgary's Stephen Avenue will close on Aug. 30.

Owner Brian Guichon will oversee the closure of Riley & McCormick. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Before this year's Stampede, Guichon said sales were down because of the economic slump and that he was hoping the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth would provide a boost.

But relentless rain resulted in about 80,000 fewer people heading to the grounds or shopping downtown on their way there.

"It was one of the worst Stampedes for local business we've had in a long time ... The decision was not made easily. We knew that this was a make or break Stampede for us."

Belt buckles, along with hats, boots and clothing are all on clearance. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Guichon says the closing of the store on Calgary's downtown pedestrian avenue, with its wooden horse out front, means the city is losing a bit of its identity.

"I guess in a lot of respects we were a cultural icon," he said.

The store is offering deals to help clear out merchandise. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Guichon's grandfather Eneas McCormick co-founded the business as a saddlery with William James Riley, in 1901 — before Alberta was even officially a province.

It has been a part of every Stampede since the first one in 1912.

"History has passed by the doors of Riley & McCormick stores — pioneer missionary Father Lacombe for supplies for his orphanage, military saddles ordered for the Russian Cavalry in WWI," the store's website says.

McCormick went on to found CFCN radio, and was elected as a Calgary alderman and deputy mayor.

'Nothing lasts forever'

A Labour Day parade float passes the Dominion Bank in 1908, followed by little girls in white dresses. Beside that is Ellis & Grogan and Riley & McCormick's saddlery store in its first location, 111 Eighth Avenue. It later moved to 205 Eighth Avenue. (Glenbow Archives)

Guichon said more taxes, an increased minimum wage and inflexible landlords all helped pile on the business costs, while the emptying-out of downtown offices and fewer people wearing western gear bit into sales.

"There's always going to be a segment of the market that will wear western clothing and products ... Just not as many as there used to be."

Men working in the Riley & McCormick saddle room, circa 1920s. (Glenbow Archives)

"It's kind of sad, but nothing lasts forever," he said.

Riley & McCormick is hardly the only business to have closed this year in Calgary.

The city recorded 3,532 business that had shut down or moved in the first six months of the year, a small uptick from the 3,342 that closed in the first half of last year, and the 3,209 in the first half of 2013 at the height of the energy boom.

At the same time, the number of new business licenses is also up at 3,804 for the first half of this year compared with 3,511 in the same time frame last year, with the city attributing the increase to more home-based and consulting businesses.

The company's airport location lease runs until the end of the year, but its fate is uncertain beyond that. 

"We hope to carry it on there ... we'll see," Guichon said.

Eneas McCormick with one of his children in front of his house in Scarboro, circa 1915. (Glenbow Archives)
A Riley & McCormick truck decorated for the Stampede parade in 1924. Hoot Gibson with a foot on the running board, Edward McCormick on the horse. (Glenmore Archives)
An undated interior picture of the Riley & McCormick store on Eighth Avenue. (Glenbow Archives)

With files from The Canadian Press


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