If you venture to Dundas West, you may just see a blue a-frame which reads, ‘magazines, magazines, magazines, magazines’ in various fonts. Now, this might be something we say to ourselves when we’re on a magazine spree, but this time it signals a brand new venue for purchasing print in Toronto. Magazine store Issues opened its doors in the summer of this year, sparking a surge of print fans coming down for their launch. Since then, owner Nicola Hamilton has been working non-stop to bring the best indie publications to the local community and nationally.
Issues has grown to nearly 3,000 followers on Instagram (at time of writing) and has been featured in The Toronto Star amongst others. Overleaf sat down with Nicola to discover more about her background in design, what inspired her to open Issues and loads more. You can read the full interview below.
Hey Nicola, how are you?
Hi Stuart! I’m doing well. Thanks for asking.
You’re a graphic designer by trade, is that correct? I am also!
I am! I graduated from Humber College’s Graphic Design Program in 2011. That’s in Toronto’s West End.
Do you feel that your design background fed into a love for print? Or was there an organic journey into mags?
Oh! That’s hard to say: Did my love of magazines lead me to design or did design teach me to love magazines?
I’ve always been obsessed with magazines. My mother is an equestrian photographer (Read: She only photographs horses. Yes, it’s very niche.) Her livelihood was selling images to magazines, so I’ve been surrounded by them since birth. I even graced a few covers myself in the late-90s.
In my final year of design school, I decided editorial design was my genre. I loved the interplay of words and images. I found ways to make all of my remaining projects editorial projects. It paid off: I’ve spent my entire career working in magazine-land in some capacity.
My first job was at The Grid, a city-weekly (c. 2011-2014) that was much loved here in Canada and abroad. It was the first back-to-back-to-back winner of the SND’s World’s Best Designed Newspaper award. From there I spent time at Chatelaine, a Canadian legacy women’s magazine before joining Vanessa Wyse at Studio Wyse. In 2020, I left Studio Wyse with the intention of taking a sabbatical to experiment, to travel and to learn. The universe had a different plan in mind though…
"Jeremy, the industry advocate that he is, openly shared so much wisdom and experience with me. Without that one video call, I’m not sure Issues would exist."
Nicola Hamilton, owner of Issues speaking about magCulture founder Jeremy Leslie
Is there a project you’re most proud of? (Other than Issues!)
In 2020, I started working with Christina Vardanis to redesign Best Health Magazine. It was an opportunity to rethink what a women’s health title was and to blow up the way a print magazine operates. Our team is a small, but might, five people. We’re fully remote and spread out across the country. Our art department is … me. And yet we’re working with exceptional talent and turning our award-winning content. It’s a dream.
Congrats on the shop opening! Tell us a bit about Issues.
Issues is an independent magazine shop in Toronto’s west end. We exist to celebrate the people and projects keeping print alive. We’re the first of our kind in decades. Toronto — well Canada, actually — hasn’t had a shop dedicated to magazines in a really long time. The bulk of us have been buying our print titles at the grocery store or paying big bucks to have them shipped to us from the publisher.
Can you describe the journey as to when the idea for the shop came about, and how it came to fruition?
I’ve had the idea for a few years now, but always assumed someone else would do it. When I travel, I seek out interesting magazine shops. It’s my favourite way to spend an afternoon. I’d always wondered why Toronto, a highly creative city, didn’t have one of their own.
In April of 2021, I started investigating the idea in earnest. I sent an email to Jeremy Leslie, at MagCulture, that said “I’ve been toying with an idea, one that’s been lodged in my brain for years. I’d like to open a magazine shop here in Toronto.” Jeremy, the industry advocate that he is, openly shared so much wisdom and experience with me. Without that one video call, I’m not sure Issues would exist.
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Did you have any early worries? And how did you overcome them, if so?
The financial part of opening Issues was terrifying. I had to secure funding. We exist in large part because of a loan, with favourable terms, from Futurpreneur, an organization that helps entrepreneurs under forty start businesses. I had to write a business plan and defend it. Defending it was tough at times. The narrative that print is dead came up in every single conversation. I really had to stick to instincts that this could work. I won’t lie, I almost gave up a couple of times.
Do you envision a busy balance between serving design clients and also customers?
I do! I don’t want to stop making magazines. Currently, I’m still the art director at Best Health, which comes out six times a year. I’m also working with Precedent, a magazine for Toronto lawyers, on a redesign and will produce two issues a year for them. I have two wonderful part-time employees, Sabrina and Mitchell, so will cover the day-to-day of serving customers. I’ll be moving my design office to the shop next month — there’s a little extra space behind the storefront — which will hopefully weave me into the fabric of the shop too.
What does your average day look like for yourself?
Right now? Chaos. I’m getting closer to striking a balance, but at the moment, I feel a bit like a ping pong ball bouncing from task to task to task. Typically, I get up around 7AM and keep the first two hours of the day to myself. I’m answering emails by 9AM, which could be anything from assigning a cover shoot for Best Health to paying duties on a shipment from the shop. By 11AM, I’m on my way to the shop. We open at noon Wed-Fri. I’m there serving customers, entering new inventory, and sending out online orders until we close at 6PM. If I’m not alone at the shop, it’s likely that I’ve snuck out for at least one meeting throughout the day, if not more. Then I walk home — it’s a 33-minute walk — and pick up my design work for a couple of hours before shutting things down for the night. Absolute chaos.
But the goal is to find balance! It’s going to take a little time.
What is the print scene like in Toronto? Many magazine shops or outlets?
The few good newsstands we have in Toronto operate on the convenience store model, so they sell magazines but also cigarettes, chewing gum and soda. They’re not particularly inspiring spaces to hang out in. In contrast, we have a couple of boutique clothing stores that also have a solid, niche collection of magazines they sell (i.e. just obscure fashion titles or just Japanese titles).
The magazine-making industry is small and tight-knit, clustered around Montreal and Toronto. It’s been a long time since we’ve had somewhere to gather. I’m hoping Issues can become that: a destination for magazine makers and a place where you’re bound to run into a friend or colleague.
Your slogan on Instagram reads, ‘Hard-to-find, independent magazines’ – do you feel there is an air of rarity around niche magazine titles?
In Canada, absolutely. For many of the titles I’m carrying, Issues is their first Canadian retailer. In some cases I’m seeing a magazine in print for the first time I’m putting it on our shelves. If you follow independent publishing, you’re seeing these things online which isn’t quite the same as holding a print copy.
How do you go about curating titles to sell in ISSUES?
I’m using a piece of wisdom Jeremy Leslie gave me: “Think about the store as a magazine. You’re the editor. Only bring in things you believe in.”
If I were to walk up to the shop on Dundas St. West, what would I see? Also, what else does the neighbourhood offer? Has it been welcoming?
Well, first you’d see our white, frilly awning and a bright blue sandwich board that shouts “Magazines.”
The neighbourhood, known as Little Portugal, is packed with interesting small businesses. They all cater towards the creative class (designer gifts shops, home goods, vegan ice cream, vintage clothing, etc.) which makes it the perfect destination for a coffee and a wander. It’s been incredibly welcoming.
Do you have any personal favourite titles (stocked or not stocked)?
They change regularly, but right now I’m obsessed with:
- Mother Tongue, an interrogating of modern motherhood. It’s not about kids or how to parent them: it’s about the nuanced lives we are living—as mothers, and not mothers.
- MacGuffin, an immaculately researched magazine about the “life of things.” They do a deep dive on a different inanimate object each issue.
- Serviette, a Toronto-based magazine about the ideas, conversations and connectivity of food cycles; the language, culture and transformative possibilities of what we eat.
Where do you want to see Issues in 5 years time?
In five years, I hope we’re still a magazine shop at our core, but I also hope we’ve found other ways to celebrate the magazine-making community through some combination of education, events, funding and/or mentorship.
My project, Overleaf, aims to celebrate makers, sellers and creators of independent magazines. Do you feel the same in the thought that documenting the legacy of magazines will enrich future generations? (I hope we can collaborate more in the future!)
Our mission is to celebrate the people and projects keeping print a live. So, yes and I’m so excited to see more forums for lovers of independent print popping up. Kudos!
I do believe that magazines will continue to enrich future generations. Watching design students thumb through the shelves is fascinating: it opens up a whole new world of inspiration for them. They’re amazed at the things you can do and the magazines that exist. Independent magazines are incredible vehicles for telling marginalized stories and connecting hyper niche communities.
Your website includes a huge range of mags on offer, as well as a most popular section (great to see!) Do you ship domestically in Canada/US and internationally? What’s the best way to support you?