Retailers and Businesses in Gay Villages in Canada Struggle Amid the Pandemic: Study

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A new study shows that businesses in Canada’s three largest ‘gay villages’ have struggled over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study found that the gay villages have seen a disproportionate number of closures, boarded up storefronts and high rents compared to the rest of the LGBTQ+ business community.

Montreal-based commerce platform Lightspeed commissioned the study carried out by Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business along with the support from Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce. The study set out to gather actual data that would support some of the assumptions made about the true impacts of COVID-19 on this community.

The purpose of the Lightspeed study was:

• To assess whether there has been a disproportionately negative or positive impact from the pandemic on LGBTQ+ businesses and entrepreneurs.

• To explore whether LGBTQ+ businesses, in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, have explicitly turned to or benefited from gay villages/neighbourhoods and/or similar community organizations.

• To explore the options for investment and support that respondents perceive as necessary or helpful for post-pandemic recovery.

Gay villages in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver were examined as part of the study. Toronto’s Gay Village is centred around the intersection of Church and Wellesley Streets in the downtown core. Montreal’s Gay Village is located on Ste-Catherine Street East between the Berri and Papineau subway stations. Vancouver’s Gay Village is centred on three blocks of Davie Street west of Burrard Street on the downtown peninsula in the West End. 

The study found that the gay villages saw a disproportionate amount of closures, boarded up storefronts and high rents compared to the rest of the LGBTQ+ led business community. The types of businesses located in the villages include retail, restaurants, bars and entertainment — and according to Statistics Canada, these were hardest hit during the pandemic.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) of food services and drinking places fell 39.5% in March 2020 and by another 40.8% in April 2020 as many of these businesses either closed completely or operated at a greatly reduced capacity, providing take-out or delivery services exclusively. About 56% of food service and drinking place operators reported being closed at some point last April, while 41% reported being closed for the entire month. And by the end of April 2020, sales at food services and drinking places fell 61.3% from pre-pandemic levels observed in February 2020.

The study showed that villages were not seen to be fostering business and entrepreneurship or providing a community or resources for businesses outside of retail and hospitality. The study noted that greater collaboration and partnership with Economic Development and the BIAs could bolster the opportunities in the gay villages. The study stated that there is an opportunity for gay villages to promote diversity within LGBTQ+ businesses in their services and outreach, and to become safe spaces and hubs of innovation while having the opportunity to reach out to and bring in young entrepreneurs and businesspeople to collaborate.

The study also showed that women entrepreneurs and business owners are significantly underrepresented in LGBTQ+ businesses and greater attention is needed to develop more opportunities and support for intersectionality amongst the community. Participants in the study were predominantly male (70%) reflecting nation-wide studies showing that 79% of businesses had majority male ownership in Canada (Statistics Canada).

Gay Village in Montreal, said to be the largest in North America. Photo:
Church Street Businesses – Photo by Craig Patterson
A pocket park off Davie Street in Vancouver’s West End. Photo: Places That Matter

Canada is also lagging behind the US in recognizing LGBTQ+ businesses for preferential spending, procurement and relief funds according to the study. The Lightspeed survey also looked at gay villages in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Business leaders and leaders of organizations that represent, support or advocate for the LGBTQ+ business community were interviewed for the study.

“Lightspeed was founded in 2005, in Montreal’s gay village and its original members were all part of the LGBTQ+ community. The ethos of our business has always been about diversity and inclusion from the very start, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this research was particularly important to us,” said Dax Dasilva, Founder and CEO of Lightspeed. “Both in the US and in Canada, majority-owned LGBTQ+ businesses generate trillions of dollars of contributions to the total GDP. Given their importance and influence on our economies, we wanted to understand exactly how the pandemic has affected this community and start a conversation with businesses and chambers of commerce, to help us build even better tools for resiliency.”

The study is part of Lightspeed’s Community through Commerce initiative, which the company says serves as a tactical, data-driven approach to better understand the businesses Lightspeed powers with its one-stop commerce platform. Based on the findings of the study, Lightspeed said that it will engage with local North American LGBTQ+ Chambers of Commerce to identify ways of helping merchants continue to build thriving businesses.

Lightspeed’s inaugural Global Diversity and Inclusion survey found that 16.81% of its global employees identify as LGBTQ+ and 90% report that they feel comfortable talking about their culture and background with their colleagues. A total of 83% of survey respondents said that they feel that they can be their ‘authentic selves’ in the workplace.

The study remains open to capture evolving North American trends. Leaders/founders of LGBTQ+ majority owned businesses can participate anonymously by going to:

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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