Queer-owned businesses in Evanston focus on positive customer experiences separate from sexual identities


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Some queer-owned business owners use their identities to forward open-mindedness with clients.

Iris Swarthout, Senior Staffer

Evanston hosted its annual Pride Month celebration this June with a series of events including parades and happy hours. But Pride isn’t just celebrated one month a year.

For some local, queer-owned businesses, inclusivity is crucial to the customer experience year-round — even if not exclusively in the name of Pride. Bill Ramsey, who owns Modern Vibe, a mid-century and Danish modern furniture retailer, exemplifies this queer ambiguity by simply providing a “positive experience” for customers — regardless of age, race, sex or gender.

“I try not to pigeonhole the business in any way,” Ramsey, who identifies as gay, said. “I just like it to be open and friendly.”

Up 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 began specializing exclusively in mid-century, Danish modern decoration.

“I do have a passion for mid-century design and Scandinavian design,” he said. “I never really dug in like I have here, so it’s really exciting to dive into the history.”

Still, Ramsey added that consumer wants are as much a part of the theme of the store as his taste — all skills learned from merchandising. Ramsey was previously a district manager at Eddie Bauer and a regional vice president at Carter’s OshKosh B’gosh.

The shop’s antique vibe has made it stand out, and Ramsey said he hopes the shop conveys a sense of inclusivity to all.

“There’s no one else like me in Evanston,” he said.

Jackson Adams is the 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 started in high school, Adams worked at his uncle’s decoration business before starting his own company, which has morphed to include services ranging from complete home installs to decorating holiday store windows.

Adams said although his sexual identity doesn’t 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 front in center in the business model. But that doesn’t account for Adams’ personal investment in supporting the queer community.

The Indiana-native helped start the Evanston Pride celebration back in 2019 with 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 continued fight, but I know that 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 if they demonstrate their shared commitment to equity and justice for LGBTQIA+ people,” the website 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 customer consultations, home visits and eventually furniture placement.

For both owners, a positive customer experience is necessary. For Adams, that involves client comfortability. For Ramsey — an auspicious environment.

“I want it to be a positive experience for everyone who walks in,” Ramsey said.

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Twitter: @swarthout_iris

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