The Army & Navy Co-operative Society Ltd was formed and incorporated in London on 15 September 1871. It was launched by a faction of army and naval officers with the intention to supply articles for domestic consumption and general use to its members at the lowest possible rates. It was based on the idea of two other earlier middle-class co-operatives, the Civil Service Co-operative Society and the Civil Service Supply Association.
The first outlet of the Army & Navy was opened in London’s Victoria Street in February 1872. As their business expanded rapidly, the society started to open their stores abroad, starting with Paris in 1875. By the end of that century, they were constantly receiving requests to open their branch in India, to supply quality goods made in England to the military personnel and the band of European Civil Servants posted in the country, who badly wanted items from their home. To meet the demand, the first Indian Army & Navy Stores was opened in Bombay in1891, while the Calcutta branch was ceremoniously opened ten years later, in 1901. As the Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co and the Hall & Anderson Store had already started their business in the city, Army & Navy Sores became the third great British department stores in Calcutta.
Located on the Chowringhee road and constructed in 1901, the majestic building of the stores with its red walls, tall columns, Corinthian Capitals and multiple pediments, almost resembles the massive structure of the Writers’ Building, except the mansard roof. However, the façade of the building is markedly distinguished by a series of semi-circular arches with stucco decoration in the spandrels.
Like the other two famous department stores of the city, the Army & Navy Sores mainly dealt with consumer products. However, for the benefit of their possible customers they used have an elaborate and voluminous catalogue book of thousand pages, which contained illustrated description of their products. They used to sell imported provisions and items such as tinned beef mince. In those days, the Army & Navy Scotch Whisky was very much popular, especially among the European community of the city. They also had tailoring and printing departments under the same roof. Apart from that, the Army & Navy Sores also functioned as bankers, travel agents, insurance brokers, caterers, undertakers and the retailers for the Gramophone Company of India. In spite of being a European store, The Army & Navy Store also took advantage of the local festive season and had ‘Puja Sales’ to avail of the lucrative opportunity of the massive purchases made by Hindus during the Durga Puja.
The Army & Navy Stores suffered significantly during the Second World War, when both of its sites at Turnham Green and Portsmouth in England were badly damaged by the Nazi bomb attacks and its Plymouth depot in England was destroyed. However, they suffered the final blow at the independence of India, when the British military and civilians left the country for their home. The glamorous department store housed in the magnificent building in the heart of the city, closed their doors forever in 1948.
Subsequently, the property was acquired by the Poddars, who strangely own many other heritage properties in Calcutta, including the Tower House in Dharmatala and named the massive building of the Army & Navy Stores as Kanak Building, after the name of a woman in their family.