We’ve all heard it before: community is key to building a successful modern business. But keeping these communities alive, engaged, and aligned with your mission is easier said than done—especially amid the social and economic upheaval of the past few years.
Take a look at the nightlife industry, which suffered more than most from the COVID-19 pandemic. Queer bars are fundamental pillars of the community, but they’ve struggled to stay alive in recent years. For example, there are now fewer than 30 lesbian bars in the US, compared with more than 200 in the eighties.
One of those remaining bars is Henrietta Hudson, which has been a mainstay of New York’s nightlife scene for more than 3 decades. Originally opened as a lesbian bar in 1991, the space now welcomes all queer communities, effectively reinventing itself from a crowded nightclub to an inclusive lounge for the community—something that’s helped this business not only stay alive but thrive.
Maintaining a business for so long is impressive. But for queer-owned firms, it’s sadly not that common. According to a study in 2021 by the Center for LGBTQIA+ Economic Advancement & Research and the Movement Advancement Project, 64% of LGBTQIA+ owned businesses in the US are younger than 10 years old, compared with 47% of non-LGBTQ+ owned businesses. Very few queer businesses can boast a tenure as long as Henrietta Hudson’s (32 years)—just 17% of LGBTQIA+ owned firms are 21 years old or more, compared with 31% of non-LGBTQIA+ owned firms.
Below, Lisa Cannistraci from Henrietta Hudson shares some of the learnings that have helped her business stand the test of time. We also speak to Naj Austin and Ryan Lanji, founders of two separate community-centered organizations in Brooklyn and London, who share some advice for newer businesses approaching the daunting task of creating something for the long term.
Lisa Cannistraci (she/her): activist and owner of Henrietta Hudson, a lesbian bar in New York City that opened in 1991.
Naj Austin (she/her): founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based community platform Somewhere Good and the creator of former queer wellness hub Ethel’s Club.