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HEADER How Florence Gagnon creates community as an entrepreneur
• Oct. 16, 2023

As told to TD Stories. For Small Business Month, which runs throughout October in Canada, we're highlighting unique business ventures. Here, Florence Gagnon of Montreal, Quebec shares her entrepreneurial journey in the publishing and hospitality industries.

I never intended to be an entrepreneur. But looking back, now I see it was kind of inevitable.

I started out studying fine art photography at Concordia University in Montreal, and fell in love with not just the creative aspects of the medium, but also working on different projects.

My dad owned an ad agency in Montreal. You could say he was my entrepreneurial role model. Advertising is a creative industry, and I was always inspired by how he was able to work – and live – on his own terms by following his passions and taking on projects that were important to him.

That's what I wanted too: To live by my ideals and pursue things I really believed in.

After I graduated, I began to immerse myself in the arts and 2SLGBTQ+ communities in Montreal as a queer young woman living in the city. Yet, despite thriving communities in Montreal – and in cities around the world – the only very public role for lesbians in the early 2010s seemed to be Ellen Degeneres, or characters on TV shows like The L Word and Orange is the New Black. It was fine, but that was all in California, and Hollywood was presenting something different than my reality.

I was missing a sense of diverse representation, especially within Montreal, and Canada. I started looking for ways to change that and create a sense of belonging.

I found myself a new project. I started a blog, which morphed into a local TV show, and at the same time I also ran local parties and events under the Lez Spread the Word moniker. All of those things ultimately led to the Lez Spread the Word (LSTW) print magazine.

LSTW began as a magazine by and for lesbian women. Over the years, the magazine has evolved. Today, we're a lesbian, bisexual, queer, and Trans publication because we want to be an inclusive platform for artists and creative people. We receive anywhere from 50-250 submissions for each of our yearly issues that aim to defy stereotypical portrayals and give greater visibility to positive role models.

For our latest 2023 edition, released in August, we had three different covers featuring three different original works of art. Our issues are more like books than magazines; we hope readers cherish them and display them on their bookshelves and coffee tables.

Print is not dead

Like many in the magazine publishing industry, I can't count how many times I heard the phrase, "print is dead." Naturally, my team and I were nervous about how a new magazine would fare.

To celebrate our first issue, in 2016, we held a launch party at a now-closed queer art space in Montreal. We were expecting maybe 100 people; a few hundred showed up. That was the first night where we were like, this has potential. We felt the magazine was something people wanted, that print was still relevant, that we were really onto something.

Eight years later and our bilingual magazine is distributed in 20 cities across North America and Europe, including in stores like magCulture in London, Issues Magazine Shop in Toronto, Skylight Books in Los Angeles, Librairie Les Mots à la Bouche in Paris, Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum in Amsterdam and Iconic Magazines in New York.

Celebrities like Lena Waithe and Tegan and Sara have graced our cover and earlier this year, we won the Magazine Grand Prix at the prestigious National Magazine Awards in Canada.

A particularly cool milestone for me was when magCulture London, one of the oldest and most beloved magazine stores in the world, curated a window for our tenth anniversary edition in 2022 (the issue celebrated ten years of LSTW as an organization, which preceded our print magazine). That's when I knew we weren't a little startup anymore, we'd made it.

TD joined as our biggest sponsor in 2020, and along with helping to support the magazine, I work closely with my TD Business Development Manager, Martine Roy, and always know I can reach out to her for financial-related advice. Through working with TD, I've learned about how TD has specific programs to support women and 2SLGBTQ+ businesses and entrepreneurs. As someone working to create community and belonging through a creative project, this makes all the difference to me.

A new venture

Just like I never set out to be an entrepreneur, I never intended to co-own a business in the hospitality space.

But during the pandemic, I stumbled upon my next project – another one that's all about building community. Throughout the process, I knew I could rely on Roy at TD for advice to help me navigate the financial side of this new venture.

Friends of mine owned a nightclub, which had to stay closed throughout the pandemic. There was lots of talk about reinvention, so one night, we sat down with some wine and talked about what we could do with the space.

At the time, we knew lots of people were recording podcasts in their closets, so we thought, why not provide a proper studio space? That's when Idéal was born. It filled a need for us and creative folks.

The 3,700 square-foot space is part wine bar and restaurant and part recording studio. Groups can rent the studio to record podcasts or even host meetings, and we've rented the entire place for corporate parties and events. We host live podcast recordings, too. The studio has windows that look out onto the eatery and both spaces are mic-ed, which allows for interaction between the hosts and on-site listeners.

Idéal isn't a queer space per se, but it's known as a safe space in Montreal. Many of us who work there identify as women or non-binary.

Even though the hospitality industry wasn't where I imagined working, I'm able to continue creating spaces where folks feel like they belong. And that means the world to me.

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