Executive Profile: Teddy Rothstein
As the saying goes, “behind every good man is a …” but in the adult novelty industry’s case, there are pioneers who put in a lifetime’s worth of work and Teddy Rothstein from Nasstoys is certainly one of them.
A native New Yorker, as is evidenced by his undeniable, New York accent, Rothstein started the company that’s often considered the “big little guys” of the sex toy world: Nasstoys. But Rothstein’s roots in the adult industry started many years before Nasstoys’ origins in 1975 to be grown into the well-rounded company it is today.
It all started with the forward-thinking vision of Rothstein who realized that “by going with the flow and changing with the times,” he and his company would always be ahead of the curve with the never-ending changes in the adult marketplace. “I started out in 1966 in the 42nd Street area of Manhattan, owning a couple of adult bookstores and hardcore and burlesque theaters back in the day. I had to change with the times to still keep the money rolling in: first there were theaters and magazines in the ’60s, then in the early ’80s, video came along and killed the theaters because people didn’t need to go to theaters or need magazines to see porno. Then along came DVDs which we know killed video and now the Internet is killing DVDs.”
Rothstein’s long history in the adult trade began with humble beginnings in the early ’60s, starting in the printing and publishing industry in Manhattan. The company was Star Distributors, which published “girlie magazines” with images of naked women as well as the popular “dirty books,” also known as “pocket books” that men (and most likely a few women now and then) would turn dog-eared by constant one-handed reading. These books and magazines were considered pornographic and often times considered illegal, resulting in these “flesh peddlers” paying stiff penalties for publishing images that today barely get noticed. Back then, even publishing a picture of a naked woman meant jail time for those involved, which required Rothstein to fight for every word of the First Amendment that so many people in the adult industry take for granted today.
Longtime friend Kenny Guarino, founder of Metro Distributors in Rhode Island, originally met Teddy more than 40 years ago during those heady days at Star. “I went to New York when I heard about Screw newspaper and that was being sold on newsstands. I had a magazine route in New England so I thought it would be great to add on to my line. So I end up in Teddy’s office on 150 Lafayette St. in New York. Teddy said, ‘Why should we give you the right to distribute Screw and not the other distributors who wanted it?’ I said, ‘I will do the best job and I will pay you.’ The rest is history... a 40-plus year relationship with the best guy I could have ever met. When Teddy likes you, there is nothing he wouldn’t do for you, and I have many situations that have come up over the years and he has been by my side, always. A stand up guy like no other — a real live Mighty Mouse!”
Sharing a similar meeting with the pioneering Rothstein is Frank Kay of East Coast News/IVD. Kay originally met Rothstein in the New York area through Kay’s interest and introduction in the adult industry, going back 25 years. “It was a combination of different areas, such as my selling in NYC, dealing with stores, dealing with distributors and manufacturing companies, and especially working with the magazine business. In Brooklyn, Teddy was always buying and selling products, which he still does!”
Kay and Rothstein have been friends ever since and that includes much non-adult-industry time, too, such as playing golf, having dinner in NYC, and attending industry and non-industry events since they have a lot of mutual, non-industry friends as well.
Kay continued, “He’s an icon. He’s always been very even keeled, very steady, very good attitude, great personality, great work ethic, has stood up for certain rights and is an all-around good guy, not only friendship-wise but business-wise, too.”
One of the benefits for Kay and East Coast News is that with Rothstein’s company being the only East Coast-based adult toy manufacturer, Nasstoys is able to provide ECN with products immediately instead of waiting for shipments to arrive from the West Coast. “Nasstoys is a steady and reliable vendor who is easy to do business with. They always have been and I am always appreciative of Teddy and the wonderful company he has built.”
Other friends are quick to point out Rothstein’s same qualities. Michael Warner of Great Western Publishing, also goes back to Rothstein’s days in publishing. “Whenever Teddy sees a void, he fills it. He’s always been a pioneer in this industry and we continue to do printing for Nasstoys’ packaging and other printing. He’s truly an icon.”
And Rothstein’s long-time friendships go past the professional realm. Many years ago, Kenny Guarino’s five-year-old daughter, Gabriella, was given a mink teddy bear for Christmas by Rothstein. When she brought it to kindergarten, the teacher asked what the teddy bear’s name was; she answered “Teddy Rothstein.” But of course ….
But perhaps his closest friend in the industry is his business partner at Nasstoys, Elliot Schwartz, who is often the face of the company on the road while Rothstein keeps the warehouse buzzing.
Schwartz and Rothstein go as far back to the days when Rothstein would babysit young Elliot Schwartz on Nasswalk Street in Brooklyn, where they both grew up and was the street that provided the first namesake of their company when it started back in 1975. “Teddy is my brother from a different mother. I have been with him as a friend and supported him through the days of printing dirty pictures, shipping magazines, through production of the movies that were shown on 42nd St. (yes, Teddy handled everything including filming, producing and distributing adult movies back in the days of 16mm film), to Teddy’s starting Nasstoys by selling Spanish Fly, Sta-Hard cream and Anal-Ese, all of which still are bestsellers for us. He is always thinking of what the best new products will be, what kind of packaging they should go in, and every other aspect of the business. I don’t do too many things without asking him his opinion first.”
Asked what Schwartz would say to offer a toast to Rothstein, he replied “I owe you so much! You made me what I am today. You have had a lot of influence on my upbringing. He wheeled me in my baby carriage. I owe him my life not only in business but also with my growing up, making me the nice, fair, person I am today. I owe it to him — his principles, business ethics, the whole thing. He is the best friend, mentor, advisor and wise man that any person could ever want. Teddy, thanks for everything!”
And for all of us in this crazy adult industry, we remain grateful to Teddy and raise our glass as well.