Evanston hosted its annual Pride Month celebration this June with a series of events, including parades and happy hours. But Pride is not celebrated just one month a year.
For some local, foreign-owned businesses, inclusivity is crucial to the customer experience year-round — even if it’s not solely in the name of Pride. Bill Ramsey, who owns Modern Vibe, a mid-century and Danish modern furniture retailer, illustrates this strange ambiguity by simply providing a “positive experience” for customers—regardless of age, race, sex, or gender.
“I try not to let the business down in any way,” said Ramsey, who identifies as gay. “I just like to be open and friendly.”
Until 2015, Modern Vibe — then titled Trash and Treasures — carried items with a more eclectic, bohemian vibe, Ramsey said. By the time he bought the store a year later, the store had begun to specialize exclusively in mid-century, Danish modern decor.
“I have a passion for mid-century design and Scandinavian design,” he said. “I’ve never really dug in like here, so it’s really exciting to dive into history.”
Still, Ramsey added that consumer needs are as much a part of the store’s theme as his tastes — a philosophy he said he likely gleaned from his time as a district manager at Eddie Bauer and a regional vice president at Carter’s OshKosh B’gosh .
The store’s antique atmosphere made it stand out, and Ramsey said he hopes the store conveys a sense of inclusiveness to everyone.
“There’s nobody else like me in Evanston,” he said.
Jackson Adams is the owner, creative principal and founder of Life: Styled by Jackson, a one-man interior design business with an Evanston storefront that opened in 2016.
With a passion for interior design that began in high school, Adams worked at his uncle’s decorating business before starting his own company, which evolved to include services ranging from complete home installations to decorating holiday store windows.
Adams said that while his sexual identity does not dictate his interior design services, he feels that his role in the LBTQ+ community has opened the door to a customer space that supports queerness.
Like Modern Vibe, Life: Styled by Jackson doesn’t put queerness at the forefront of the business model. But that doesn’t account for Adams’ personal investment in supporting the queer community.
The Indiana native helped start the 2019 Evanston Pride celebration as a member of the Main-Dempster Mile, a community organization dedicated to supporting local businesses. The idea slowly evolved into the non-profit Evanston Pride which hosts queer community events throughout the year, including the annual Pride parade.
“It’s a constant battle, but I know we live in a really great community that’s very supportive,” Adams said.
Evanston Pride seeks to support the full spectrum of LGBTQ+ community members and invites partnerships with local businesses with similar missions.
“Evanston businesses and allies are encouraged to participate and contribute as they demonstrate their shared commitment to equality and justice for LGBTQIA+ people,” the site said.
Both Adam and Ramsey’s businesses embrace the local community with open arms through their work. The design process doesn’t happen “overnight,” Adams said, and involves client consultations, home visits and ultimately furniture placement.
For both owners, a positive customer experience is necessary. For Adams, this involves customer convenience. For Ramsey – a favorable environment.
“I want it to be a positive experience for everyone who walks in,” Ramsey said.
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