By Amy Young, November 2018 issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2018 here.
It was the early 1990’s when Doug Klinge, an Arizona transplant from Michigan, decided to walk away from a bad situation and follow a new path into a good one. He left a job that found him working for a toxic manager and opened Unique on Central, a fun boutique packed with LGBTQ-oriented merchandise that remained a popular destination until it closed in 2010.
“I worked for J Riggins, a men’s clothing store at Scottsdale Fashion Square where I was the manager for more than two years,” Klinge recalled. “After that first couple of years, I was assigned a new manager for our region who wanted me to fire my assistant manager. When I asked for a reason, she told me it was his lifestyle that she didn’t approve of and that she ‘didn’t want anyone like him working for the company.’ He refused, and two weeks later she tried to fire him for the same reason – being gay. When he confronted her and asked her if his being gay was indeed the reason why, she confirmed his assumption.
With Arizona a right to work state, Klinge didn’t have much legal recourse. With the help of some supportive friends, he determined his next move. They suggested that he take his retail experience and open his own store; one for the LGBTQ community. “They were confident that I’d be successful and that I’d also find a sense of justice in this new adventure, along with having a way to give back to the community.”
He didn’t hesitate. “I sold everything I had to make it happen,” Klinge told us. “I even sold my car so that I could move forward on this venture. I met with the landlord of the spot Unique started in and scheduled it to open on October 4, 1994. In February of 1995, I took over the space next door so that I could expand Unique.”
Those who remember Klinge’s colorful boutique – and there are many – can tell you that it was a great place to go when you wanted to laugh. The greeting card section alone was a draw; it teemed with hilarious options. We’re talking about a card section that won “best of”-type awards. Filled with sarcastic and perfect one-liners, the card racks inspired lengthy browsing sessions as patrons picked their favorites.
If you needed a place to grab your rainbow jewelry or pick up some sexy spandex, Klinge had you covered. CD’s, t-shirts, candles, and even a tube of lube, this was your destination. Upbeat music kept the house rocking. Between that and the friendly, helpful staff, it was like walking into a shopping party.
Creating a shopping destination was just part of Klinge’s mission. Adding that welcoming vibe was another. “I wanted a place that could be fun but also full of information about our community. My main focus was to bring unity to our community and raise awareness about all of the non-profit agencies here to provide support, and also to raise funds. I wanted to be an information resource – my hallway was filled with flyers and business cards for the community.”
Echo: You created such a festive shop with Unique on Central. What were some of the challenges you faced at that time?
Klinge: During Back in 1994, ‘gay’ was not a household term. City officials tried to shut me down because it was a gay store across the street from a church. There were a lot of political leaders who were against the gay community. Once, city officials and police came in and demanded that I lock my doors while they measured the footage from my front door to the church. That took all day, but I was cleared to reopen. That happened several times. I faced break-ins, windows smashed by rocks, theft, and graffiti.
Echo: You had quite a run and were such a great destination. How long did you stay open?
Klinge: During Unique on Central closed in March of 2010. Our landlord passed away, and the property was sold to owners that were not at all gay-friendly. Our rents tripled, and many of the surrounding businesses were being pushed out due to that increase. It was a stressful time. I decided it was time to move forward.
Echo: You’re currently working for Macy’s, right?
Klinge: During I started with Macy's at the Biltmore on April 24, 2010. My first week there, management was asking me how Macy’s could get involved with the gay community. I am currently a personal fashion stylist and corporate sales manager. In the past few years, Macy’s (at the Biltmore location in north central Phoenix) hosted Pride fashion shows before the annual Phoenix Pride event. I am currently a member of the Greater Phoenix Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (GPGLCC) representing Macy’s.
Echo: What kind of things does that include?
Klinge: During Macy’s has hosted a net-mixer for the Chamber, which was very successful. We had more than 60 individuals, and the remarks on Facebook were tremendous and overwhelming.
Echo: It sounds like just as with the boutique, you’ve found something you really love.
Klinge: During I love my position at Macy’s. I can give special attention to those who need it, and I can work around each’s schedule. I can dress you in looks from very professional to fashion-forward. If you need a party look or wedding attire, I can do that too! I am really knowledgeable about different brands and fits, as well as our sales and when there are good times to buy. I offer a personal service that’s lacking in retail today. I have a great office with dressing rooms and free gift-wrapping. It’s old-fashioned customer service at hand.
Echo: What are some changes that you’ve seen in the community since Unique closed?
Klinge: During There are a few. One is that today it is okay to be gay – our youth look at it differently than we had to. Also, more corporate companies are embracing our community. Change is good. Today it is legal to marry the one you love and not have to hide them. I was raised by a homophobic father who was abusive. He beat me and once even stabbed me. We had some many barriers to break down. Being brought up by a hateful human has driven me to fight so hard to give a safe place for our community to visit and embrace.
Echo: It’s great that you were able to create that environment. Are there any particular moments that stand out?
Klinge: During the Unique days, I had one youth sleeping on my front doorstep in January, one year. I found out he’d been thrown out of his home for being gay, by his mother. I took him to my house for food and rest and the next day I had to go to work. When I returned home, he was sitting there crying. He didn’t want to go back. He told me that he had a sister in North Dakota. I called her to see if he could come there. She was happy to have him make the move but didn’t have the money to help him get there. I took him to Target and got him some warm clothes and supplies and the next day took him to the bus station and sent him to this welcoming member of his family. I gave him some extra money and my phone number. When he arrived, he and his sister called me to thank me. In 2008 on a summer day, a tall gentleman came into my office looking for me. It was him. He wanted to thank me for helping him – he had just graduated high school and was on his way to college. He wanted to thank me in person.
Congratulations to the Class of 2018! Meet the rest of the inductees here.