- 319 Portage Avenue
It’s been a little over 40 years since O Calcutta started downtown as a boutique that imported Indian goods and apparel to Winnipeg.
“I grew up here. Eaton’s was still across the street – it was still running,” says Gurinder Nirula, shop owner of the current iteration of O Calcutta, located at 319 Portage Ave.
“Instead of going outside to play, I would just jump on a bus and come downtown.”
And although the shop has since transitioned to specialize in band tees, merchandise and various themed housewares and memorabilia, there are a few things that have stayed consistent over the business’ four decades: the shop name, the family behind it, and the large collection of incense – still a top-seller.
From a young age, Nirula studied the family business, spending his young years behind the register, until he took on a larger role as shoprunner in the early 90s.
By the mid-80s, he and his brother had identified a trend in band merch and some immortalized figures whose popularity wasn’t going away – the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, The Three Stooges and Bob Marley.
While some bands’ emblems and famous figures’ likeness are reproduced in all kinds of imitations – O Calcutta prides itself on only offering fully licensed work, in a range of product offerings.
For instance, if you want an item that shows off how much you love Kiss, you can likely find 12 types of graphic tees, some bedding or a throw, posters, belt buckles, pins, patches, and possibly even a board game with a cheeky nod to the group.
On top of its wide product selection, O Calcutta is unique in that it owns its prime downtown real estate. Twenty-two years ago, the Nirula family pursued the location before it was even up for sale, and managed to ink a deal on the storefront and adjacent property, which it uses for additional storage.
That move has paid off.
After being expropriated from their former shop to make room for Portage Place, the Nirulas were tired of moving locations and having to reestablish themselves, and were happy to settle into a permanent storefront at 319 Portage Ave. – that today sits directly across from Bell MTS Place.
Seeing everything from Eaton’s shutting down – “we were quite concerned because that drew a lot of traffic,” says Nirula – and then bearing witness to the rise of Bell MTS Place has been a whirlwind for the local company.
“I’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go,” says Nirula. “I think it’s a testament to our family and work ethic that we’re still here.
“The type of store that we have suits downtown, and it suits us. It’s a good fit.”
For more information on O Calcutta including to browse product offerings, visit www.ocalcutta.com.