Riley & McCormick, one of Alberta's oldest western wear businesses, is closing

CALGARY – Western wear purveyor Riley & McCormick, one of Alberta’s oldest businesses, is riding into the sunset.

Owner Brian Guichon says increased costs and changing tastes means it’s time to close the historic downtown Calgary retailer.

“Sales aren’t what they used to be,” Guichon said. “We’ve had a rough go the last couple of years and it’s just time.”

He says the Riley & McCormick name could still live on with online sales and a Calgary airport outlet, but he isn’t sure what will happen when the lease runs out at the end of the year.

Guichon’s been selling cowboy hats, boots and everything else you’d need to look the part at the Calgary Stampede since the 1980s.

But his retail roots run much deeper, with his grandfather Eneas McCormick co-founding the store as a saddlery with William James Riley in 1901 — before Alberta was even officially a province.

For Guichon, the closing of the store on Calgary’s downtown pedestrian avenue, with its weary 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 difference between Calgary downtown and Toronto downtown would be the fact that we have a western culture, and we won’t be there to contribute to it.”

Guichon noted that 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.

“The market is changing,” he said. “There’s always going to be a segment of the market that will wear western clothing and products. It’s part of our culture. Just not as many as there used to be.”

A disappointing Calgary Stampede this summer, combined with the other pressures, prompted Guichon to call it a day, with aggressive discounts to clear out what’s left in the store before it closes at the end of August.

“It’s kind of sad, but nothing lasts forever,” he said.

Riley & McCormick is, however, hardly the only business feeling pressures from the downturn.

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.

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