RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- When you walk into downtown Raleigh's Green Monkey, warmth meets you at the door.
The gift shop, neighborhood bar and event space is owned by married couple Rusty Sutton and Andrew Temple. It's been around for ten years but opened in the heart of downtown at its new location for only a few weeks.
"It's a safe space for people to be who they want to be. Come shop, feel safe and have a drink," said Rusty Sutton. "It's not necessarily that I wanted it to be a safe space for LGBTQ people, but also our allies."
Growing up gay in the South, Sutton and his husband have seen changes in how society accepts the LGBTQ community. At 58 years old, the need for community remains.
"The thing I remembered in the 80's and 90's when you would go to a club and saw someone you knew. Usually, you'd scream at the top and say oh my gosh! I suspected, but I wasn't sure," he said. "We didn't have to go down a dark pathway with a secret knock. All your gay bars, you'd have to stand outside and go in with a member if you weren't a member. It seemed so dark."
Sutton took ABC11 me on a trip down memory lane to a time when there were places like CC's and Legends in Raleigh. Those gay bars provided a safe space. Over the years, he's watched gay bars disappear. It's something that hasn't just happened in North Carolina but in other cities across the country.
Sutton recognizes those business owners as pioneers who paved the way for other LGBTQ-owned businesses like his. That's part of why keeping the green monkey open is important. Downstairs is an area he calls the Monkeyverse Fellowship Hall.
"We do drag shows. We do karaoke. We do trivia, music bingo and wedding showers," said Sutton.
On the walls, you'll find works of art on display from LGBTQ artists. Shopping and supporting locals is a big part of their business model. Some of the items sold in the gift shop are made in North Carolina. There are many unique trinkets you can't find anywhere else.
The mission of continuing to offer a safe space remains a priority here. That means the Green Monkey will have an open door welcoming everyone.
"We've been to several places. We've felt uncomfortable back in the early days," said Sutton. "We're a resilient community. The more you tell us we can't do something. The more we're coming full force."