Member Spotlight: Avenue Calgary’s Connection to the City Remains Strong Through the Pandemic

Date: 11th June 2021

By Sarah Moore

The pandemic afforded Avenue Calgary an opportunity to rethink the role of a city lifestyle magazine and how to best serve its readers and Calgary businesses.

“People need even more information about their city now than they ever did because so much has changed,” says editor-in-chief Käthe Lemon. “The things that they thought they knew about their city are often no longer true.”

In the face of negative, pandemic-related news in the spring of 2020, Avenue started a weekly newsletter to bring optimism into readers’ lives. The magazine already had newsletters covering its core topics, like food and drink, and shopping and style.

Avenue P.S. was different: it gathered five good things that happened in Calgary each week – not just contextually good things, like a company making masks during a pandemic, but “objectively good,” says Lemon.

The list is compiled on their website as well, and now continues with five good things every month.

Typically a monthly magazine, Avenue didn’t publish in print in July or August 2020. With the absence of a physical copy, Avenue P.S. reminded people that “Avenue is a brand that is tied to the future of this city, we love this city and what happens here, and here’s proof,” says Lemon.

It also, importantly, gave readers good things to focus on that weren’t getting much news coverage, a goal that came with a careful balance.

“You don’t want optimism to shade into being ‘everything is great!’ because, you know what, everything is not great. Things are really bad for a lot of people and we have to be cognizant of that,” says Lemon. “So it’s about finding ways to talk about genuinely good things without sugarcoating the situation.”

Being sensitive to readers’ needs has changed the content of the magazine itself, as well. For instance, there are articles that are tied to the context of the pandemic, like how to look your best for video conferencing or where to buy board games for pickup and delivery.

To combat isolation and loss of connection to the city that many Calgarians have experienced, Avenue has placed an emphasis on telling the stories of interesting people. For example, since 2015, Avenue has put out an annual Best Dressed List.

“We felt that “best dressed” was really out of step with what was happening in the city, but we felt that style is still a question that our readers really care about,” says Lemon.

This April, instead, they revisited past best dressers and asked: what does style mean to you now?

Avenue helps readers answer the question of how to access the best of life in Calgary. That answer has shifted dramatically since March 2020, “but it’s always been changing,” says Lemon. What is relevant to readers is in constant flux, and has been since Avenue began publishing 26 years ago. The magazine is there to meet that change, and its pickup rate is still over 90 per cent every month.

“That, I think, is a testament to the fact that we’re creating content that people still want,” says Lemon. “They still want to know about the city and we’ve been able to adjust our content to reflect the city as it’s been changing.”

What was the first magazine you fell in love with?

I’m a magazine reader from way, way back. As a child, I got Chickadee and OWL and Ranger Rick. I loved those magazines and a lot of them had physical interactions – pages that you folded, things that you coloured – and I think that having that kind of interaction with magazines from a very young age was really formative.

The first ‘grown-up’ magazine would probably be Rolling Stone. I remember I was a teenager in the kind of grunge era, growing up in Ontario, and I needed to know all the latest information about all this music that I was just starting to learn about. I would get my copy of Rolling Stone and I would write notes in the margins and underline things and circle things and again, I very much interacted with the magazine in that physical way.

What is your favourite thing about working in magazines?

It gives you total freedom to follow your curiosity. Especially with a magazine like Avenue, if you’re curious about something, it’s your job to find out the answer and follow your curiosity every single day.

How would you describe Alberta’s magazine industry, in a couple of words?

I think it’s scrappy, resourceful, and generous. The magazines that are here are not big budget. They’re not huge conglomerate companies. They’re used to trying to figure out how to do a lot with a little and they don’t give up. They’re usually really passionate about their topic and they’re companies trying to do something because they just care about their readers and their content. I have found this group of publishers to be very generous with their advice, their help and their feedback. 

Who is someone whose work you especially admire?

I’m really loving the current Vanity Fair. I didn’t love it for a really long time and I love it under its new editor, Radhika Jones. I think she’s doing some really interesting stuff.

We have been doing some work with Matthew Blackett from Spacing and I just really admire what he’s done with that publication and with his merchandise series. He has that kind of scrappy attitude of finding a way to share his ideas about urbanism and transit and what a city can be.

What are you looking forward to in the next year?

I’m looking forward to growing our Made in Alberta Awards and exploring what can be done with new newsletters. I’m also looking forward to doing in-person events again. We moved our signature events online and that’s been really great, but I’d really like to see some readers again and have an opportunity to interact with them face-to-face rather than moderated by a screen.

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