LIMA – Shape up or ship out. That was the choice before Valetodo Downtown, a famous Peruvian nightclub immensely popular among the LGTBIQ community, as the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in the South American nation.
The club has now converted into a convenience store with the clients occasionally helped by a staff of drag queens.
The strict lockdown and night curfew, enforced in Peru for 103 days now, have taken a hard toll on establishments like Downtown and left them without resources to survive the shutdown.
The club was known as the heart of the nightlife in the Miraflores district due to its long history and incessant ability to throw up some of the most diverse nights in the country.
“With the resumption of operations pushed to a distant future, which continues to be distant even now, we resorted to doing whatever we could to help and provide work to our partners, who are facing a dire situation. That’s how the project was born,” the club’s general manager Claudia Achuy told EFE.
As the 120 employees running the massive disco – a “monster” spread over 200 square meters, two floors and five rooms that catered to revelers seven days of the week – lost all work opportunities in the short and long-term, becoming a grocery shop was a gradual process for the establishment.
“When the country shut down, the first thing we did was a virtual nightclub, free of cost, and it continues, to be close to the people who have always stood with us. (…) Later we looked for something which would allow us to generate some kind of revenue, and therefore started delivering the products that we already had in stock, and the idea was formed,” said Achuy.
It culminated in the birth of “Minimarket Downtown,” which aims to be a “different experience” than merely a grocery shop, as it is being run in a nightclub infrastructure that was always been characterized by an “art and culture” atmosphere within its spaces.
Even though the flashing strobe lights have given way to more appropriate lighting and the dance floors have been covered by shelves full of products, the graffiti is still visible on the wall and industry-inspired cement floors.
And the entertainers, artists, and dancers belonging to an elite group of Peruvian drag queens have now reinvented themselves into shop assistants, cashiers, and storekeepers.
“Firstly and lastly, the purpose of everything was always giving jobs. This is a community, a family. (…) I am thankful and moved by the staff, who have readily accepted the new challenge with a lot of gusto and understanding that the situation is difficult,” Achuy acknowledged.
Of course, with the knowledge that as a business the shop needs to sell things and the employees need the same level of backstage production for coming out to sell potatoes or performing on stage, it was decided that the drag queen shopkeepers will come out with all pomp and show only at certain pre-decided times.
“We don’t want the public to get shocked, and assuming the (drag queen) role is an art. This is different, therefore it will be regulated and announced in advance on social networks when they will be attending,” the manager said.
Although she clarified that delivery clients, especially those ordering alcoholic beverages, could receive their orders from the Downtown drag queens at all times.
Apart from its ambiance, the new Downtown also wants to distinguish itself from other stores by offering original or different things apart from regular products like oils, soft drinks, cookies, and chocolates.
“We offer products from independent and local brands, innovative things, and locally designed bio-safety material, which has become a necessity now. We don’t know yet if this is viable, but it has an added value for us and that makes us think it can work,” Achuy said.
The manager feels that the convenience store business is more difficult than running a flagship nightclub for the LGBTIQ community, as everything “requires more work” and is “unknown.”
However, she aims to bring back the old Downtown whenever possible, and that is why it doesn’t feel like a failure.
“What is more, I have seen that people are with us and the public is faithful. The community gives out a feeling that it is stronger and united. More than a loss, it is a pause to come back stronger. The Downtown brand hasn’t been lost and we will return when the circumstances allow. It is not a goodbye, instead, we are starting up to later continue with the club,” the manager signed off.