Upscale Calgary-Based Retailer O’Connors Looks to Future Growth Post-Pandemic: Interview

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For decades fine clothing and footwear independent retailer O’Connors has weathered all the economic storms Calgary has suffered through including the current one brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The retailer has lived through a number of recessions and economic downturns over those years and has survived, and thrived, while many other retailers had to close their doors.

One thing has been consistent over that period of time and a key to the family owned and operated retailer – consistently delivering a quality product with exceptional customer service.

Greg Smith (Left) and Myles O’Connor (Right) – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi

Myles O’Connor, owner, said the past year has been very challenging with everything going on.

“I do count ourselves fortunate and thankful that we were basically able to open in May of 2020. We closed for the initial two months, March to early May, and we’ve been open since. It’s been obviously very challenging. Business isn’t what it was but the fact we were able to keep our doors open has been huge for us and for all retailers,” said O’Connor.

“I think things will start opening up come September. As far as business going forward, I think we’re going to be aggressive. There may be issues with lack of product and the supply chain to get product in. But we’re taking deliveries of fall goods as soon as we possibly can. We feel the country is going to be open for business come September. It’s going to be slow opening but we’re going to be there.”

“I think when we’re really going to see downtown come back by September.”

When asked why O’Connors has been so successful for decades, Myles replied: “I think the big thing is we’re a local business and we have boots on the ground so to speak. I’m here every day. My father, Graham, is part of the community and has been in the business for 60 plus years. He still comes into the store. He was an integral part of the business and service. We’ve got long-standing people who have worked with us. That’s been our biggest strength. People come in and see familiar faces. We’ve been able to evolve with the times. We haven’t stood still. We’ve been aggressive in our buying, products and lines, merchandising. We’re different than a major so to speak – the Nordstrom, Saks, Harry Rosen kind of thing which are all good retailers – but we are a local store and I think that has been our strength.”

Greg Smith, managing partner for Shoes by O’Connors, said the company will be launching in the future an e-commerce site, that isn’t a traditional platform, but something that is interactive between customers and staff at O’Connors.

“I don’t think we’ve ever stood still. We’re constantly trying to always be better, and change, and do things differently,” said Smith.

O’Connors Mens and Womens Clothing and Footwear – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi

In 1958, Ed O’Connor, Myles’ grandfather, and business partner Ed Bourque opened a menswear store O’Connors & Bourque. Myles’ father, Graham, went to work for them. In 1961, Graham O’Connor opened his own store The Stag Shop featuring clothing designed for “the button-down professional young man.”

In 1971, O’Connors & Bourque and The Stag Shop amalgamated and simply became known as O’Connors.

In the 1970s, Graham also opened The Pant Pocket which was the first designer jeans store in Alberta.

All the stores were on 7th Avenue S.W. near the Hudson’s Bay flagship.

Under Graham’s leadership, O’Connors successfully expanded through the economic turbulence of the 1970s and 1980s adding both a men’s shoe store and Lady O’Connor, an upscale establishment featuring women’s designer collections.

O’Connors Mens and Womens Clothing and Footwear – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi

In 2002, O’Connors commissioned a custom-built freestanding store just outside the downtown core in the old Valentine Volvo car dealership. O’Connors, one of the largest independent retailers in Canada, moved into 12,000 square feet of space. Initially the store had a women’s section but in 2007 O’Connors opened a new standalone women’s store across the street. The women’s store is about 3,100 square feet.

The current store is enhanced with historical items and paintings, including posters and pictures of the Calgary Stampede. The family has a strong connection to Calgary’s iconic annual event. Ed O’Connor was President of the Calgary Stampede and Graham O’Connor was a director at the Stampede for many years. Myles’ brother Stuart O’Connor is on the Stampede board.

Myles O’Connor played a few seasons in the National Hockey League and his son Logan is now with the Colorado Avalanche.

Additional photos below are courtesy of Mario Toneguzzi

O’Connors Mens and Womens Clothing and Footwear – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi
O’Connors Mens and Womens Clothing and Footwear – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi
O’Connors Mens and Womens Clothing and Footwear – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi
O’Connors Mens and Womens Clothing and Footwear – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi
O’Connors Mens and Womens Clothing and Footwear – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi
O’Connors Mens and Womens Clothing and Footwear – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi
O’Connors Mens and Womens Clothing and Footwear – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi
O’Connors Mens and Womens Clothing and Footwear – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi
O’Connors Mens and Womens Clothing and Footwear – Photo by Mario Toneguzzi

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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