If you are visiting Calgary, perhaps new to Calgary or just want to get out of your shopping rut, here are some Everyday Tourist recommendations for uniquely Calgary shopping experiences.
Even if you don’t like to shop, or don’t need to buy a souvenir each of these shops are interesting for their design, artifacts or the community that they are located in.
Alberta Boot, #50 - 50th Ave SE
Perhaps the quintessential Calgary shopping experience would be to buy a pair of locally made cowboy boots from Alberta Boots. Clem Gerwing moved from the family farm in Saskatchewan to Calgary in 1963 and purchased a wholesale footwear company. For several years he sold Quebec, Mexican and American made boots. Not happy with the quality, he decided the world’s best boots should be made in Calgary and so Alberta Boots was born in 1978. The Gerwing family has since made boots for the likes of Will and Kate (yes, THAT Will and Kate), Tom Selleck, Brad Pitt, Kevin Costner, Owen Wilson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Fred Couples, Jerome Iginla, Gordie Howe, Paul Brandt, Keifer Sutherland and many other big names.
Their huge store and factory in Calgary’s up and coming Manchester district is definitely worth a visit. And a surprise – they don’t just make cowboy boots now!
Link: Alberta Boot
Aquila Books, 826 - 16th Avenue NW
Who would think the little building with the blue awning on the TransCanada Highway (aka 16th Ave N) is home to one of North America’s best antiquarian bookstores? Aquila specializes in books dealing with polar expeditions, Western Canadiana, mountaineering and the Canadian Pacific Railway. As much a museum as a bookstore, it is filled with antique maps, prints, photos, letters, postcards, scientific instruments and even an Inuit kayak hanging from the ceiling. It is well worth the visit if you love history and/or books.
Link: Aquila Books
Circa Glass, 1226A - 9th Ave SE
If you like eye candy, you will love Circa. Owner and curator Brian Imeson has created a one-of-a-kind gallery in Canada that showcases mid-century modern art glass from around the world. A visit to Circa is an educational experience, as Imeson is more than willing to spend time sharing his vast knowledge of European art glass.
A souvenir from Circa is something you will enjoy for a lifetime.
Link: Circa Glass
Crown Surplus, 1005 - 11st St SE
You could easily walk by the Crown Surplus site thinking it is just a junk shop filled with old army surplus equipment - not that there is anything wrong with that. Established in 1953 originally as R&S Surplus, Crown Surplus has a long history of selling decommissioned army equipment. But inside there is so much more. It is a military treasure hunters dream with stuff hanging from the ceiling and stuffed into every corner, but you can also find great outdoor clothing and equipment deals.
Link: Crown Surplus
espy, 1009 9th Ave SE
Located in the timeless Atlantic Avenue Arts Block, espy is an affordable fashion boutique for women and men. The staff pride themselves on being able to find their clients – no matter their size or age - the perfect pair of jeans. They specialize in the difficult, by carrying sizes from 00 to plus 16 for women and special sizes for men with long arms and long legs.
Could there be a better souvenir of Calgary than a perfect fitting pair of blue jeans? And yes, they’re more than just jeans.
Gravity Pope, 1126 - 17th Ave SE
Gravity Pope is a must visit for anyone interested in fashion and interior design. The open multi-level floor plate with its 70s psychedelic design is simply dazzling with mirrors everywhere reflecting the light and objects to create a magical mystery tour. A commissioned colorful art installation by artist Kristi Malakoff embellishes the visual feast. And then there are 200 footwear brands displayed on pedestals like works of art.
It is like an art installation that you might see at a major contemporary art gallery in London or New York – but this is one where you can take a “piece” home.
Link: Gravity Pope
Heritage Poster & Music, 1316 - 11th Ave SW
Here you will find not only vintage vinyl, but new and out-of-print music, rare concert tour and gig posters, photos, movie posters and just about anything “music.” Holger Petersen of Stony Plain Records says, “Heritage Music has the best collection of Blues, Folk, Roots and Jazz records in Canada.” I don’t argue that.
Link: Heritage Posters
Kent of Inglewood, 1319 - 9th Ave SE
Need a good axe? How about an old fashioned straight razor? You can get these and lots more at Kent of Inglewood man’s man store. Check out the Kent of Inglewood Boar Bristle Beard brush or their badger hair shaving brush. There is also a barber on site where you can get a shave and a hair-cut, while others are exploring the shops of Inglewood.
And yes, they have an entire wall of axes…. warning don’t try to shave with them. And yes, they do offer shave classes.
Link: Kent of Inglewood
Knifewear, 1316 - 9th Ave SE
Across the street, along Inglewood’s main street you will find Knifewear’s museum-like flagship store that opened in 2008. Owner Kevin Kent, (he also owns Kent of Inglewood), first fell in love with Japanese knives while working a sous-chef for the legendary chef Fergus Henderson at St. John’s restaurant in London, England. Upon returning to Calgary in 2007, he began selling knives to Calgary chefs out of his backpack on his bike. Today, he visits Japan a couple of times a year to learn more about the ancient art of knife-making and meet directly with the blacksmiths. His staff are both enthusiastic and very knowledgeable. The dynamic mural on the wall is worth the visit alone.
A Japanese knife will surely impress friends at your next dinner party.
Livingstone & Cavell Extraordinary Toys, 1124 Kensington Rd NW
If you are a grandparent or love retro things, you will love Livingstone & Cavell. It is full of nostalgia-based toys, everything from shiny pedal cars to pick-up sticks, from toy soldiers to classic board games and wind-up tin toys. Livingstone & Cavell invites everyone to play again. Wind up a tin robot, twitch a marble with your thumb, play a few bars of “Happy Birthday” on a toy piano, and share your memories with friendly staff.
Take home something educational for the grandkids and something fun for yourself.
Link: Livingstone & Cavell
Map Town, 400 - 5 Avenue SW
When you're in the heart of downtown Calgary, there's a hidden gem that has been compared to the world's largest map store - Stanford's in London, England. Established in 1989, Map Town is Canada's largest map store offering 90,000 world, travel, country, topographic, landowner, provincial, nautical and aeronautical maps, as well as travel guides, traditional and solar globes, digital data for your GPS and novelty items. Map Town has delivered maps to over 99% of the postal and zip codes in Canada and the USA.
There most unique map is an authentic Captain John Palliser's exploration of Western Canada in 1867. If it is still available it is yours for $28,000. Popular souvenirs include World Wall maps, and local hiking maps of the Canadian Rockies. It is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Recordland 1208 - 9th Ave SE
Opened in 1979, Recordland boasts an inventory of over one million obscure, classic and new records, making its Canada’s largest record store. Visit on a weekday and you can browse to your heart’s content. Visit on a weekend and you will be rubbing elbows with Calgary’s many audiophiles as the place is packed with floor-to-ceiling shelves that are only about three feet apart. Look up to see and records decorating the ceiling.
Reid’s The Stationary Store, 710 - 17th Ave SW
Reid’s has been a fixture on 17th Avenue for over 25 years. A party store in the front and stationary store in the back, it is a FUN place to explore. Jam-packed with balloons and piñatas and gag gifts, as well as designer items from Alessi and Riedel, and a huge selection of cards and specialty paper. Serious pen collectors won’t want to miss their large selection of designer writing utensils from Mont Blanc to Faber-Castell, from Lamy to Cross.
If you can’t find a souvenir here, you aren’t really trying.
Rubaiyat, 722 17th Ave SW
Rubaiyat, established in 1973 has been one of the retail anchors on Calgary’s 17thAvenue main street, since it opened at its current location in 1980. The store is unique as it combines a hand-blown glass gallery with upscale jewellery, as well as home décor accessories and furniture (indoor and outdoor). At any given time, there are works by over 800 artisans. It even has its own Stained Glass Studio at 1913 - 10thAve SW - definitely worth a visit for off-the-beaten path shoppers.
If you can’t find a souvenir here, you really don’t want a souvenir.
Smithbilt Hats, 1015 - 11th St SE
No visit to Calgary is complete without a visit to the Smithbilt Hats new store, museum and factory in Inglewood. Founded in 1919, Smithbilt is the maker of the famous Calgary “white cowboy hats” that have been presented to visiting dignitaries as the City’s symbol of hospitality and friendship since the 1940s. Today the store offers a range of hats and other western fashion accessories. You can even custom cowboy hat made for you. The shop is full of hat-making artifacts and if you are lucky you might even see in progress hat-making.
Link: Smithbilt Hats
The Chocolate Lab 202D Centre St. SE,
This tiny off-the-beaten-path shop in Chinatown offers chocolates that are ALMOST “to0 pretty to eat.” They are works of art. Several of The Chocolate Lab’s bonbons – Orange Dreamsicle, the L.L. Dean and the Lychee Rose have won awards at the International Chocolate Awards. If you go to The Lab, be sure to leave some time to explore the surrounding quaint Chinatown.
Link: Chocolate Lab
World of Whiskey, 333 - 5th Ave SW, (+15 level, west of Petroleum Club)
Explore over 850 different varieties of whisky at Calgary Co-op’s World of Whiskey store, one of the first whiskey-only stores in North America. Here you will find rare vintages from Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, India and France, including a 50-year old single malt Glenfiddich going for the price of a well-equipped car.
No smoking jacket required.
Link: World of Whiskey
Obviously, there are many other retailers I could have included in this list. If you are looking to further explore Calgary’s unique shopping scene, I would suggest you explore these five districts.
Inglewood: Along 9thAvenue SE
Beltline: 17thAvenue SW
Kensington: 10thSt NW and Kensington Road
Design District: 11thAve SW
Downtown Hudson’s’ Bay to Holt Renfrew (+15 level and above)
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