Reaching around barriers to

At the corner of Davie and Howe, a new cell phone retailer has opened its doors and is hoping to change the face of what a mobility store can offer. Caya, an anagram for “Come as You Are” is a far cry from the Nirvana song of the same name. Offering its selection of phones, cameras and accessories is only the beginning.

I had the store introduced to me by a colleague as the “new gay Telus store,” which Caya essentially sells itself as. On first mention, it sounds absolutely ridiculous, but I had to head down to the store to find out first hand what they're getting at.

Upon approaching the shop, a looming massive futuristic corner piece that dwarfs the neighbouring businesses, it seems like the owners of Caya have big ideas for the place. Unlike most boutique sized mobile storefronts, Caya is a large presence inside and out. I wasn't in the shop for more than five seconds before an employee latched herself onto me, and went on to tell me about everything from the store's mandate, to trying to get me to jump ship from my cell provider onto Telus, which just so happens to be the provider backing Caya. Quite honestly, it was a bit intense as far as customer service experiments went.

I do think certain aspects of Caya's business model are great, such as giving $25 from each smart phone sale to Out In Schools, a program aimed at creating equality in high schools. However, the idea that the gay community is being told it “needs” its own place to shop, segregated from the rest of society, only seems to be pushing us back 20 years. One may argue that the business is all-inclusive, but by opening in the heart of the Davie Street Village, and featuring an actual gay male couple in its ads, Caya is painting its demographic quite obviously without actually saying so. Copies of the gay-centered publication Lov were being distributed in the store, and even the employee of the store said to me "We just want a place where our customers can feel comfortable as themselves," a slogan I later learned was pulled off the company's website almost word for word. How's that for personable?

I did make sure to pry for information about the shop, and why we need this as a society. "We're just trying to be a place that people of any sexual orientation or colour can feel comfortable," I was told. Wait a minute, I thought. Isn't this sort of lost in the idea of a cell phone store? I fail to see how the concept of buying an iPhone is a pivotal point for sexuality to come up in a consumer point of view. Cell phones are a product we all use, and as a gay person myself, I have never felt the need to shop at a gay-specific store in the past, and I highly doubt I will do so even with the option now available to me. Wouldn't it have made more sense to draw the gay community together with something that would be a bit more reflective to the gay community?

As one of the store's models, who wished to be unnamed, told me: there is no need for this store to exist. The store employee tried to relate to me by telling me the store began "with a cocktail. A group of businessmen sat down over a drink and thought 'Wouldn't it be great to have a place everyone can come?'" Well, sure. But were we not all allowed into every other retailer anyway? Creating our “own” shopping destination as a gay population only shows that we believe we're “better” and “different” or have different needs than straight people, something we've been trying to squash for years in the fight for equality.

While I do think that it's great to have more cell providers, potentially creating a competitive and cheaper service for consumers, that doesn't appear to be happening, or to be part of Caya's plan. Their products are no cheaper and no different than any other store, offering items that could be found in any electronics or mobile location. While I do believe programs such as Out In Schools do need to be supported, this business almost seems to be exploiting the gay community, and I'm sure that many have already bought into it. But being told that I now have a “place to shop” is almost offensive and demeaning to me as both a gay and as a human being. I'll continue to shop at my regular location, where I can “feel comfortable” without being told that I can.

//JJ Brewis, Art Director

//illustration by Tyler Hughes

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