One hundred years ago this past September 18 the Hudson Bay Company opened its downtown Calgary store. This was a time when transportation was mostly by horse and carriage or on foot. Gentlemen didn’t leave the house without their hats and pocket watches and, preferably, hand crafted canes. The ladies were adorned head to toe in fine lace and satins with matching hats and frilly parasols to ward off the sun’s rays. Sunscreen wasn’t yet part of the vocabulary.
Hudson’s sales staff, mostly women, would stand at attention waiting for customers to arrive and giving them their undivided attention. Take a good look at some of the British dramas set in that era and you’ll get the idea. The Victorian age was an era of politeness, outstanding customer service and goods of the finest quality and Calgary’s Hudson Bay represented the epitome of those standards.
Another unique thing about Hudson Bay was the idea of a store with different departments. This form of elegant “all in one” shopping experience was proving successful in England. People used to going from shop to shop for different items were thrilled to go from one end of the store to the other to find everything they needed and wanted, without being exposed to the elements. Hudson Bay also provided entertainment. An orchestra serenaded customers and celebrities made special appearances. Even the Marx Brothers got into the act, entertaining folks on opening night. The inventory became increasing exotic, making a shopping trip even more interesting.
Fast forward to 2013 where the façade of the Hudson Bay remains much the same, except for some columns added in a 1929 renovation. But outside, instead of horses and horseless carriages, a steady stream of modern cars and trucks drive by. People still stroll by but their outfits tend to be more unique, colorful and relaxed, just like modern Calgary residents. The city traded top hats for cowboy hats and lace dresses for spiffy jeans.
Still one of Canada’s premier shopping brands, Hudson Bay is planning some timely renovations to celebrate the Calgary store’s 100th anniversary. Care will be taken to preserve the existing façade on this historic building. A new eatery and lounge, planned by Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants, is slated to open in the spring of 2014. The venue will be set in the southwest corner of the property facing Stephen Avenue S.W. and First Street S.W. The restaurant will cover 7,500 square feet and the lounge another 4,000 square feet. An outdoor dining patio, the largest to date in Calgary, will also be added. A 20,000 square foot entertainment space is planned for the building’s sixth floor, overseen by INK Entertainment, with a target opening in the fall of 2014.
Plans for these two projects have been in the works for over two years, and are the largest hospitality projects undertaken by these two firms. This is just one of Calgary’s well planned steps in revitalizing the downtown core. Successfully marrying this historic building with two much anticipated venues makes this a very big step.