You definitely know you are walking into a different kind of store when you step through the doors of B&D Emporium’s new location on 17th avenue. As you take in the red walls and unique decorations, one of the first things that catch your eye is a cage containing two white-sided geckos. It’s a distinctive set up for a very distinctive store. Owner Christine Baker sat down with gaycalgary.com a month after opening to reflect on the past, present, and future of B&D Emporium.
Things have come a long way from the early years of B&D. When the business originally opened, it was located in the old Ayleth Lodge in Ogden, out of the way and hidden from the general public. From there, it moved to 4th Street and 8th Avenue, next to where the Calgary Eagle is now located, which was it’s home for six years before the recent move.
The current location is on one of the main retail districts of downtown, resulting in many new people walking in the door, as well as customers who frequented the old location stopping in to check it out.
"Most of our old customers are quite pleased that we are down here. The walk in traffic we have been seeing is phenomenal. Our former location had no walk in traffic; it was destination only. It has been a dramatic increase, a lot more people have been in the store, and hopefully that will result in more dollars generated. We’ve had people walk in and be totally thrilled to find a shop like ours move to a main drag, that we’ve ‘Spiced up the Avenue.’" The staff enjoys having first-timers in the store. The results at times can be quite hysterical. "The first level is mostly clothing; it’s on the dark side, but it is still tame. We don’t have the fashion colours that are prevalent – we’ve stayed pretty true to our course and always said we were going to be a fetish type of store. When we send them upstairs where we have the leather, latex and edgier types of products, some people are absolutely shocked, almost horrified. We get a bit of a chuckle when people go upstairs and come right back down. Sometimes we send people upstairs knowing full well it isn’t their cup of tea. The point of that is even though it may not be their cup of tea, if they are talking to some friends and say ‘I was in the weirdest store on 17th Avenue’ and tell them what the store is like, and the person they are talking to is in to different fetishes, they may be interested. Tell as many people as you can, and they will tell two friends, and so on."
Baker and her former business partner were also successful for the wildly popular "Bizarre Ball" that ran for a number of consecutive years. It was a chance for people to let their kinky side out while giving back to the community.
"When my ex partner and I broke up the business, Bizarre Ball was supposed to go by the wayside. She has decided to continue with the name. I did the bondage, discipline and fetish bizarre a couple of years ago, and all of the money that was raised after expenses went to charity. It cost $5,000 to put the show on, and we sold $10,500 in tickets. I was in New York a week after 9/11 and decided when I was there to do the show, so we contacted the United Way and donated $4,500, $1,000 of which stayed in Calgary and $3,500 went to the 9/11 relief fund. We also donated $1,000 to Beswick House. We are thinking of doing shows again on a smaller scale; it won’t be called the Bizarre Ball, and you will know it is me because it will say B&D Emporium on it. If I am involved in something my name is on it; if you don’t see B&D Emporium, I am not involved."
It’s not always easy to help out. When offering money B&D has, surprisingly, been met with resistance from some groups.
"Early on we tried to do things with some other organizations, but they seemed to think that they didn’t want their name associated with where the money was coming from. It was interesting the conflicts with well-known charities; I guess all of those groups had enough food and money that they didn’t need ours. That may in part stem from the misconception that S&M is abuse, so something like the Bizarre Ball, it was felt it promoted abuse to women. So we have concentrated on the United Way and Beswick House. We are also involved with the rodeo and the court, depending on what it is we try to support where we can."
There is a common misconception that B&D Emporium is strictly whips, chains and leather. That is a part of their inventory, but they offer much more.
"On the main floor we have our clothing – it is all trendy lines like Lip Service and Sourpuss and Lucky13. We carry shoes like Underground and are working on getting other boots and shoes in here. The main floor is very trendy, but we do have a bit of edgy stuff, like some beautiful maid outfits that fit anyone from a small girl to a very large gay. Upstairs we have our leather products- restraints, slings, swings, masks, whips, harnesses, cuffs, etc. We have a guy who makes iron products, like restraint chairs, spanking benches, and cages. We have latex product lines from Europe."
Much of the leather inventory is custom made.
"We have a set stock of things we keep in, and if I am feeling particularly inventive, I will try and dream up something new. We also do special orders; we will make collars, cuffs, and harnesses, anything that customer’s want. We had a gal come in that was having a hard time finding the right kind of belt, so we made it for her. We try to accommodate people as much we can."
B&D has also started something new, offering "previously loved" fetish gear that has been thoroughly cleaned and reconditioned, allowing those who may be interested in such outfits but unwilling to part with what can be a pricey investment to explore their kinky side.
"When I was in San Francisco years ago, there was a company that specialized in previously enjoyed leather and latex. If someone has outgrown their gear and it is still in good shape, but they don’t know what to do with it, they can bring it down here, and we can sell it consignment or sometimes buy it outright. We just bought a number of items, like a latex straightjacket, chaps and pants. We also bought leather shorts, chaps, coats and pants. I am also looking for military uniforms and boots of any type in good shape. It results in substantial discounts for our clients who may want to wear latex or leather but can’t afford to buy new."
With the stores new beginning, it’s the perfect time for those who have never walked through its doors to visit its comfortable and casual shopping environment.
"I am not moving again if I can help it. I would like to see the business really take off, so I can spend more time away from work instead of here six or seven days a week. It would be interesting to have a life outside of work. I want to invite everyone down to the store. We are planning on a grand opening, although we haven’t set a date. Keep your eyes out for a show in the not-to-distant show as well. Come on down and enjoy B&D Emporium."
So stop in at B&D Emporium, you may be pleasantly surprised with what you discover.