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Past meets present: Bù Vintage Shoppe mixes local heritage with modern shopping
The Bù team often uses shop staff and friends as models for their promotional photo shoots. Photo: Bù Vintage Shoppe

Past meets present: Bù Vintage Shoppe mixes local heritage with modern shopping


How one vintage shop is creating community in Calgary’s Chinatown

There’s something about a vintage store that signals to shoppers “we do things a bit differently here.”

They’re often run by creative types, so first there’s the obvious: it might be the art on the walls, or the eclectic inventory, or the cult following of customers who thrill in searching for the equivalent of an antique hatpin in a haystack.

Then there’s the abstract: it might be vintage shops’ origins in counterculture that make them safe spaces for folks who rebuke the mainstream, or their missions that are often fuelled by environmental or social justice issues, or their strong ties to their local communities.

One such store is Calgary’s Bù Vintage Shoppe, opened by business partners Rachel Li and Hannah Ordman in June 2022.

Not only is Bù doing all of these things, but it’s also one of several businesses breathing new life into the city’s Chinatown district — and it’s perfectly positioned to preserve local history while cultivating a modern sensibility among its patrons.  

“We had really no vision of what it would be at the start,” says Rachel. “But it’s grown to be something more than ourselves.”

An homage to the past

Both Hannah and Rachel were vintage sellers before they teamed up to open Bù in a Chinatown storefront. The building, erected in 1954, is particularly meaningful for Rachel, who is Chinese-Canadian.

Bù Vintage Shoppe's storefront in the Chinese National League building in Calgary's Chinatown. Photo: Bù Vintage Shoppe

Most of the interior details remain, with a main modern element added to the shop: large wall murals of five-petal flowers that resemble the plum blossom, revered for its wintertime blooming and an important traditional motif in Chinese arts and literature.

“The really important thing about being in Chinatown is paying homage to where we are,” says Rachel, whose father drew the Chinese character used in the shop’s logo.

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And then there’s the name of the shop: Bù, a Chinese word, is befitting for a vintage store, literally translating to “textile” or “cloth.”

Rachel says she and Hannah welcome the chance to chat with walk-ins who live in the area and who are unfamiliar with how items are priced, because “a vintage shop is not a traditional thing that exists in Chinatown — it’s a very new concept,” says Rachel.

Bù stocks vintage and secondhand fashion and accessories. Photo: Bù Vintage Shoppe

In July 2023, Like New Vintage, a Black-owned shop run by Jamaal Mwangi, opened in the basement underneath Bù.

Rachel and Jamaal are two of only a few BIPOC vintage store owners in Calgary. “I think that's kind of cool that we get to share this unique space together,” says Rachel. “We're changing the narrative for a lot of cultures where buying used things is against the norm and is actually looked down on.”

Bringing new communities to Chinatown

Bù is now giving back to the local community. Their main commodity is space: Hannah and Rachel have welcomed a number of vendors to the store to get their wares in front of new customers.

In November 2023, they launched an e-commerce shop to reach beyond the city’s borders and, in veteran-seller style, they include full measurements, era, material, and condition notes on every listing.

As a queer-owned and -operated business, Rachel and Hannah also provide a space at Bù where people can be themselves.

“We also lean towards being more size inclusive, and that's because we've both experienced the feeling of not being in the mainstream space,” says Rachel. “We just feel that everyone deserves a place to belong — it’s hard to describe what it feels like when you step into a space and you immediately know that you don't belong.”

Bù Vintage Shoppe co-owners Rachel Li and Hannah Ordman. Photo: Bù Vintage Shoppe

To that end, the shop is welcoming, filled with the warm woods of the original furnishings paired with vibrant gender-neutral orange. Clothing is arranged by category, not gender. Apparel is more focused on cut, quality, and delightful details than it is on any particular genre or style, making for an interesting mix that runs the gamut from corporate power dresser to streetwear stylista.

“We believe in very wearable vintage — things that are comfy and casual, but that also bring a little pop of colour,” says Rachel. “We're trying to shy away from being a space that's very binary. We want to be open to interpretation and let people come in and decide for themselves.”

Photo: Bù Vintage Shoppe

They let the store itself be interpreted beyond a retail space, too, to allow local groups to gather and connect. As a social enterprise, Bù Vintage Shoppe opens its doors to community organizers looking to host their events for an affordable rate.

“Han and I recognize the need to build community — if we can help others, we want to,” says Rachel.

On Sundays after shop hours, they welcome the Controller Club, which stages free DJ lessons. The Zine Club meets on Thursday evenings, where people can bring their own ’zine projects to work on in a group setting.

Bù’s retail space serves as a community gathering place in the shop’s off hours. Here, the shop hosted an album release party for local band Ginger Beef. Photo: Bù Vintage Shoppe

They’ve hosted movie screenings and art events for LGBTQ+ and social justice groups, an album release party for local pop band Ginger Beef, and accept clothing donations for the Good Neighbour Community Market on an ongoing basis.

“We feel like we wouldn't be here with Bù if our friends hadn’t helped us, so we feel an innate sense to do the same. It's just passing on the good fortune, and passing on the same kindness that other people have shown us,” says Rachel.

“Trying to promote seeing the world differently and living in the world differently is part of what we're doing right here in Chinatown.”

Find Bù Vintage Shoppe at their website and Instagram.

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