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Gender + Sexuality

At JQ Clothing, Retail Therapy of a Different Order

Inside a Vancouver store that offers emotional safe haven to clients, pandemic or not.

By Joshua Berson and Wendy D 3 Jul 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Joshua Berson is a Vancouver-based photographer who partners with a range of clients who share values of social justice, equality and diversity. Wendy D is a professional photographer and board president for Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture.

From the outside, JQ Clothing looks like yet another Vancouver shop selling rainbow-patterned clothing and cheap costume jewelry.

But for the past 20 years, the Commercial Drive store has been a safe haven for members of the LGBTQ2+ community. Acceptance is the order of the day, and JQ Clothing is a place for people to come out, hang out and try out new clothing and new identities. Rave wear, costumes, burlesque supplies: it caters to all sizes, lifestyles and identities.

Owner Corina Peterson, an unassuming looking mother-figure, has been an emotional lifeline for hundreds of customers. She’s a local patron saint for trans, queer and intersectional folks, and anyone looking to be themselves and find acceptance.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Peterson opened her door to a few clients, who shared their stories of what the store means to them, how they’re surviving the pandemic and their favourite purchases. We were there to interview them and take photos. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Billy Goodman, he/him

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Any tips for surviving the pandemic?

I have been coming to JQ Clothing. Go out and support a local business. Friends and family are important, even if I can’t see them. And neighbours and nature. I get out to the woods to be alone. My cat Squeak helps too. I live in Surrey, but it’s worth coming into this store.

What has been the hardest aspect of the pandemic?

Seeing how it’s affecting everyone else. We’ve come to see how good we have it. COVID has put things in perspective.

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What does JQ Clothing store mean to you? Why is this place important?

I love this store. It’s part of the community. Everyone is friendly and so supportive of everyone.

What is one of the best things that you have purchased at JQ Clothing?

I bought a cute little multichrome skirt.

Pablo Arias, he/him, cement finisher and freestyle rapper

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What have we learned about ourselves during this time?

Peace. People are walking by and saying ‘hi.’ COVID is a game changer. Everyone’s life is changing.

How do you think this pandemic will impact your community in the long run?

A lot of small businesses will be eaten up. Bigger businesses will prosper. It’s all going to be the same but changed. Embedded chips might be coming soon.

What does JQ Clothing store mean to you? Why is this place important?

We come here to buy things to make us feel better. This cool cat shirt makes me smile. I needed this today. I am into tie-dye, hippie music and classic rock.

What is one of the best things that you have purchased at JQ Clothing?

Weed flower socks. They fit in my shoes, are nice and thin, but you can still go out with them and they are cool.

Jarika Winfield, she/her, online performer

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Any tips for surviving the pandemic?

As someone with an autoimmune disease, I’ve been in social isolation for three years. People have to stay out of my bubble. I was diagnosed with MS three years ago. That has prepared me for this. I have been OK with not working 9 to 5. I have some guilt. I look like someone who should be able to work, but I have to let that go.

What have we learned about ourselves during this time?

People are feeling useless and not succeeding. We are seeing what’s important in life and it’s fucked. Trauma teaches you a lot. I understand life a lot more after my diagnosis. I’m hoping that people find good in this time. Hobbies and family are important. I have done a lot of writing and thinking and looking at myself. Lots of good and bad. I don’t judge myself.

What has been the hardest aspect of the pandemic?

Depression and anxiety are playing a role. The mask makes my blood pressure go really high. I use a cane and feel that people have the perception that I have COVID. And I am more stressed out with med changes. At least the Zoom appointments with the doctors make seeing them more accessible. I have a hard time with travel.

Share with us a little bit about your quarantine daily life?

My life is not that affected. I am seeing friends less. I can’t comfort others. My mom won’t come into my house. I have a giant dog. I do webcam modelling.

How do you think this pandemic will impact your community in the long run?

I perform live for fans. It’s voyeurism. My followers have depression and autoimmune issues too. I answer all questions with honesty. I talk about sexual health. People are really fucking horny right now. And it’s a strange time.

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What does JQ Clothing store mean to you? Why is this place important?

I identify as a queer woman, sex and body positive. I did a GoFundMe page for my MS, which JQ supported. I live in the area and I love this place. It feels like real people here. I have been a patron for six years. JQ is inclusive of everybody, all humans.

What is one of the best things that you have purchased at JQ Clothing?

A pleather cat suit.

Jade Weekes, she/her, music producer, photographer and studio technician

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Any tips for surviving the pandemic?

Allow yourself the ability to take small steps. Have a to-do list that you can accomplish. Have one or two tasks. No wasted days. Take time to smell the roses. I have dealt with depression and anxiety, and being a workaholic helps. I have a six-year-old.

How do you think this pandemic will impact your community in the long run?

There is going to be a huge rise in anxiety and depression. More open communication. The music industry is hurting with no live shows, which hasn’t been good for business.

What does JQ Clothing store mean to you? Why is this place important?

JQ has been fundamental for my self-confidence. It’s sweet, with such a sincere love for the community. In store and online the support from this place is amazing. Such cool clothes and sustainable ideas with no pressure to buy. The evolution of JQ has caught my eye. Constant trial and error to see what works. Corine is always willing to try new things. And all the rave wear is cool. Bonus is that I don’t have to go downtown.

What is one of the best things that you have purchased at JQ Clothing?

The body suit that I am wearing today. Comfiest and best body suit ever.

Jade Chow, she/her, student and graphic designer

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Any tips for surviving the pandemic?

Create art, stay in touch with friends. Video calls have been more important than I expected. Turn off social media. Take some time to be quiet. Be clean and you won’t die.

What have we learned about ourselves during this time?

There has been a spotlight shone on world problems — things that are broken, such as our police system. We are more divided than we would like to admit. There is more racism than we care to admit. Look at Black Lives Matter. We need to come together. This is our time to address these issues and shift energy to things that require our attention.

What has been the hardest aspect of the pandemic?

A new vaccine is not going to be the cure. We are not going back to the same daily routine: this is the new normal. We need to be more environmentally conscious; it’s been ignored. We will need to focus on local businesses and help one another.

What does JQ Clothing store mean to you? Why is this place important?

This place is a safe space. Everyone knows that JQ is safe and inclusive. You can be yourself here. And JQ has great relationships with the community. There is always help, even outside of the store. Corine is everyone’s mom. Everyone is family to her. She is genuine and authentic. There is not enough support in this community. This place is a beacon of light where only good things happen.

What is one of the best things that you have purchased at JQ Clothing?

The harnesses are cool, great to wear over a T-shirt. The crop tops are great for summer. Shop here if you can. Support this store. Pop in and say hi. Share words of love.

Xrysostomos Rahim, he/him — or whatever

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Any tips for surviving the pandemic?

Wash your hands. Wash your produce, wear a mask for transit. Don’t touch your face. Be respectful of others and their space. Have small social groups and only see a few friends.

What haved we learned about ourselves during this time?

It is easy to forget that we are all human, that we all have a life. People take life for granted. COVID has reminded us of our humanity, this common threat. Many idiots don’t think that COVID is real, but the stats and the facts are there.

What has been the hardest aspect of the pandemic?

Being left alone with my own thoughts and myself. Not being able to meet people, which is my happy place. This time is making me crazy.

What does JQ Clothing store mean to you? Why is this place important?

This place is fantastic. The first time I stepped into the store I was invigorated. I can try on outfits and check things out. I feel safe in this place. I meet folks in the queer community here. JQ is a great gem in our community.

What is one of the best things that you have purchased at JQ Clothing?

A while ago, I came in here and had no home and no money. Corine gave me a fanny pack with a cactus and stars.

April O’Peel, she/her, burlesque performer, producer and instructor

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Any tips for surviving the pandemic?

This is a time to grieve. It’s important to create a routine. And stay in contact with friends and family. And cry.

What has been the hardest aspect of the pandemic?

The loneliness and lack of personal contact has been hard. And the lack of routine. I used to have multiple streams of income, and then they were all gone in a weekend. I was supposed to travel to Whitehorse and had many local shows booked. Fortunately, I am still able to work at the Whip where I have been a server for the past five years.

Share with us a little bit about your quarantine daily life?

Wake, feed the cat, coffee, shower and then lunch. I have been in a few live shows. I was in an online show for the Burlesque Hall of Fame based in Las Vegas, which has been a real silver lining. I have been doing online dance classes and, ironically, taking money management classes too.

I moved, which was a good place to direct my energy. But it’s been overly emotional. It’s been a bad time to have to sort through all of my memorabilia.

How do you think this pandemic will impact your community in the long run?

I think that we are going to have to live with more anxiety, more fear and more stress. We are going to need our neighbours. I love our “clang gang” who bang it out every night at 7 p.m. with the neighbours.

What does JQ Clothing store mean to you? Why is this place important?

They are the longest running and best supporters of the burlesque community. This place means much, it caters to all bodies and all people. It’s fun, happy and exciting. It’s a place to experiment with wacky clothes. This place is an institution that will hopefully be around for many years.

What is one of the best things that you have purchased at JQ Clothing?

I love my dress with rainbow unicorns in space. It’s my go-to performance outfit.

Amy Duncan, she/her

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What have we learned about ourselves during this time?

I’m extremely afraid. It’s been rough. I’ve been stressed out.

What has been the hardest aspect of the pandemic?

Not seeing my kid. She is in foster care and I haven’t seen her since February. I am hoping to bring her a birthday cake on Sunday for her fourth birthday.

Share with us a little bit about your quarantine daily life?

I work in the cannabis industry. I make cannabis-infused bath fizz, like a bath bomb. You take a bath and just relax. I was living with my grandparents, but then was homeless. The people at Crabtree Corner got me a suite at the YWCA. And they have finally opened the kitchen there, so I cook my own food. I have been trying to start my own business. Most days I am up at 7 a.m., go for a walk, smoke a joint and have a coffee. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I have video calls with my kid.

How do you think this pandemic will impact your community in the long run?

I am hoping that there will be more people helping those who need help. Like, where did all these government funds come from? How come the government wasn’t there before? COVID has opened people’s eyes as to how much help is needed. There is such inequality.

What does JQ Clothing store mean to you? Why is this place important?

This is a safe environment for anybody. I was so surprised that there is so much stuff that I never thought existed or thought about. There are unique things here for every personality.

What is one of the best things that you have purchased at JQ Clothing?

I bought some cannabis earrings. This is the only store with good ones, and I love them.

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