Montreal entrepreneur eyes borough city hall

Zach Macklovitch is beginning a campaign to lead the Plateau-Mont-Royal

In 2011, an inspired West Islander, fresh out of Concordia University, partnered up with his friend Nathan Gannage, to start what would become one of the largest creative agencies in Montreal, focused primarily on event promotion.

The team took a calculated risk and invested in early St-Laurent Boulevard, when the street had a high commercial vacancy rate and very little beneficial guarantees, and opened up three venues. The clubs were a hit, immediately bringing up the street’s economic value, like a winning lottery ticket. The venues are now among the most well-known places to party in Montreal, created to be places for diversity, unity and entertainment.

This is Saintwoods, the company behind SuWu, Apt 200 and École Privée. These businesses are thriving, and now the owner, Zach Macklovitch, is shifting his focus to a new playing field: politics.

Macklovitch is running for mayor of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, alongside Équipe Denis Coderre pour Montréal in the upcoming municipal election. Sixty-five seats on the Montreal city council will be up for grabs, along with 38 borough councillors positions. If elected, Macklovitch would take the seat of Luc Ferrandez of Projet Montreal, who has been mayor of the borough since January 2010.

As he sat in his sunny office on St-Laurent Boulevard among walls of exposed brick and racks of branded T-shirts, he detailed how his political science background at Concordia helped him decide to run for mayor when the opportunity presented itself this summer. “Denis Coderre approached me as he was looking for, what he would say, a ‘real second option’ against Luc Ferrandez,” Macklovitch said.

It took Macklovitch a few weeks to accept Coderre’s offer. He said he wasn’t expecting the proposition and had to get advice of many family, friends and partners before seriously pursuing the position.

Plateau-Mont-Royal borough mayor candidate Zach Macklovitch pictured in his office, situated above Apt. 200. Macklovitch is running as part of Équipe Denis Coderre pour Montréal. Photo by Sarah Jesmer

“It was something I always wanted to do, I just didn’t think I was going to do it at 27 years old,” he said about getting involved in politics. Macklovitch’s entrepreneurial investments in St-Laurent caught the attention of the city and news media not just because of their economic success, but also because of his age. He’ll be 28 on Oct. 4, embraces his youth and stands out among older co-workers. For example, in his candidate profile picture for the Équipe Denis Coderre campaign, he’s wearing a loose white T-shirt––a significant contrast to the other candidates wearing three-piece suits.

As mayor, Macklovitch still wants to be a business owner and prioritize the strengthening of businesses on St-Laurent. He said he believes there’s value in facilitating a relationship between the municipal government and Montreal business owners.

His unofficial platform prioritizes the revival of “commercial arteries” that have “taken a hit,” he explained, such as St-Denis and Prince Arthur. He is also looking to reevaluate the policies regulating the business ventures in Montreal.

“There’s an unbelievably awful amount of red tape,” Macklovitch said, explaining how hard he feels it is to get city approval for new business-related projects in the Plateau.

According to him, the current municipal regulations for businesses are impeding progress, citing examples such as the difficulty of creating parking spaces or adding a patio to a small restaurant. “We use our rules and regulations just to be lazy and to say no to things. And that’s not what they’re there for,” he said. “We want to be working with our private citizens to make this city better.”

“We should even be attracting other businesses,” he said. “I would love to see an Amazon campus in the Plateau,” he added, using the online retail giant as an example of the economic future he sees for the area. American cities, such as Los Angeles and Atlanta, have become homes for Amazon, but so far the company hasn’t set up shop in Canada.

The values and goals Macklovitch developed during his experience as an entrepreneur at Saintwoods cross over with his vision as a political leader.

“We fought so hard against Projet Montreal to do everything we’ve done on this street. We had to fight tooth and nail for every step forward that we’ve made,” Macklovitch said, referring to dense procedural regulations Saintwoods encountered during its early stages.

When asked whether he would continue to be involved with Saintwoods should he win the election, Macklovitch was confident that balancing both responsibilities wouldn’t be an issue. “I will continue to be fully involved in Saintwoods. I’ll do both. Absolutely,” he said, adding that he’s a workaholic.

“I’m planning on just adding 15 to 20 hours to my work week every week,” he said. “If you want to do great things, that’s what you’ve got to do, and I’m willing to make that sacrifice if that means I can help to make this neighbourhood what I think it should be.”

According to Élection Montréal spokesperson Pierre G. Laporte, there is no law against borough mayors maintaining their own business. “Not at all,” Laporte said, adding that, unless a mayor breaches a contract with the city or breaks the code of ethics, he or she can’t be asked to resign.

With unblinking eyes he detailed the company’s expansion plans, like opening an Apt 200-esque venue in the United States, the release of a Saintwoods vodka and continued support of artists, such as Ryan Playground, as they release new projects.

Macklovitch said he hopes to bring more full-time employees onto the Saintwoods team with time. “Once everybody has reached a place where they’re comfortable in the company, then I can step back and focus more on the municipal responsibilities,” he said.

As far as issues outside the business world, Macklovitch said he wants to focus on community development and school support. He’d like to see city-organized sports leagues and park enhancements, inspired by the years he spent at summer camp as a kid, he explained.

Macklovitch’s non-economic goals are to make the Plateau feel more like a close-knit neighbourhood. However, he doesn’t intend to make it into its own isolated town, as he emphasized his goal is to work in partnership with other boroughs.

“All that I’m trying to focus on right now is the next six weeks—making sure that we have a strong, well put-together, informative plan-based campaign that’s going to talk about real issues and solving them,” he said, adding that this official platform is expected to be made public this week. “I can tell you that it’s going to be pro-family and pro-business.”

Photos by Sarah Jesmer

Student Life

The name behind your Montreal nights out

Zach Macklovitch talks Saintwoods and his rise up the nightlife ladder

If you live in Montreal and enjoy all the city’s nightlife scene has to offer, the name Zach Macklovitch undoubtedly rings a bell. At 27, he and his partner, Nathan Gannage, have successfully made St-Laurent Street the go-to place for the best parties.

Their promotional brand, Saintwoods, takes on an array of roles including event curation, artist management, design and branding for bars and clubs around the city.

The duo also co-owns Suwu, Apt. 200 and École Privée, all hot-spot bars in the Plateau.

Walking into the interview, I expected to meet a young, successful guy with a big ego and the words “big shot” written across his forehead. To the contrary, I was faced with an extremely gracious entrepreneur.

“I’m blessed,” Macklovitch said. “I don’t think about my failures or successes very often because until you’re at your peak, it doesn’t make a difference.” This humble tone carried throughout the interview, perhaps one of the crucial reasons for his rapid success.

Photo by Philip Tabah

“I started working in clubs at around 16 years old. Montreal was different back then—it was easy to get into trouble and I did,” he said.  Despite his “bad boy” side, Macklovitch is also a self-proclaimed nerd—a participant of Model UN— an academic competition where students learn about diplomacy and international relations—and a graduate from Concordia University on the honour roll with a BA in political science and philosophy.

“I got to university thinking I didn’t want to be a club promoter forever. Fast-forward, and I have ended up in the same industry. But I like to think I took the critical thinking I learned and applied it to what I do,” Macklovitch said.

By 21, the entrepreneur held the title of marketing director at TIME nightclub, and had just met Gannage, who started the Saintwoods brand straight out of McGill University.

Over the next few years, the venues grew and evolved.  “We [organized] deep house shows at Velvet, and rap concerts at TELUS Theatre and Belmont,” Macklovitch said.

Their names were now on club promoters’ radars. The popular dance club New City Gas approached the team with the following task: to get Anglophones under 27 excited about the venue. Thanks to their promotional abilities and entrepreneurial mindset, they succeeded.

By 23, Macklovitch had already opened Suwu, and was onto his next venture: Apt. 200.

Today, both bars are known for their unique atmosphere. Macklovitch said he pulls inspiration from the places he’s travelled, such as New York, parts of Europe and Toronto, for the look and vibe of his bars.

Macklovitch said Suwu aims to create a friendly neighbourhood vibe for the lower Plateau. Apt. 200, on the other hand, focuses on a house party vibe.

“People wanted a higher-energy place but they didn’t want to be at a nightclub,” Macklovitch said.

Success often comes with challenges. But for Macklovitch, these challenges only fuel him. Initially, École Privée drew inspiration from the underground scene Macklovitch experienced in Berlin and Paris. He wanted to bring this scene’s vibe to the mainstream.

“I think we understood our level of success when we started getting international attention,” he said. Macklovitch attributes a great deal of his accomplishments to his tight-knit team. Part of that circle includes Alex Mactavish, Saintwoods’ director of operations. Mactavish attributes Macklovitch’s rise to success to both his work ethic and personality.

“He’s always working, even when it looks like he’s not. That kind of hustle always pays off in the long-run,” Mactavish said.

But the nightlife industry isn’t easy.  While a club might be all the rage one day, it is likely to be beaten out the next. Trends change and people follow—begging the question: will the brand Zach has created be able to survive?

Mactavish said it’s all about “staying ahead of the curve.” He believes Saintwoods’ “ability to identify and react to cultural trends is crucial.”

Macklovitch confirmed Saintwoods is always looking to expand. With a lifestyle merchandise brand recently released and an upcoming branded vodka, it is clear Macklovitch is planning for the future.

Perhaps he has found the key to longevity in this fast-moving industry—going against traditional business structures and reinventing Montreal nightlife.

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