I’ve officially been in this wacky biz ever since I opened Grand Opening! in Brookline, Mass., in 1993. My love for adult stores started percolating in 1987, perhaps since before some of you were born.
Adult stores have always intrigued the daylights out of me. They have their own flavor and even in this day and age, the variety of adult stores are always the same yet remain distinctly different at the same time.
With both stores and the products, it really all comes down to the packaging.
There are convenience stores with back rooms separated by wilting, dusty fake velour curtains, which still offer DVDs and yes, VHS tapes for sale and rent (I’m not kidding!). DVDs that feature Christy Canyon, Jeff Stryker (when he pretended to be straight to fuck Jaime Summers), Aunt Peg, and even a perky Nina Hartley seductively gazing from the cover with her oh-so-80s’ hair. Those stores are still out there and I am sure they continue to have customers shuffling in with their walkers on a weekly basis.
I love all these different stores and try to visit as many of them as I can when I am on the road or even when I’m in my own backyard. I go in as the middle-aged woman (I can’t believe I’m really writing that but I’m definitely not in my 20s anymore), oftentimes cluelessly wandering around the adult toy section waiting to hear what the clerk has to tell me. Sometimes I’m heartily acknowledged and sometimes completely ignored. If they only knew who I was.
I’ve had plenty of experiences of walking into adult stores by myself, accompanied by nervous girlfriends, boyfriends, strangers, and on one occasion, even my dad.
Many years ago, my father would patronize a convenience store with an adult section separated from the general populace area with a pair of slapping saloon doors, barely hiding the adult products that slung from slat wall hooks on a dividing wall that rose a mere 36 inches from the floor. One time, I happened to be in the car with both my parents when my father stopped at that store and I decided I would join my dad trekking in while he went in to get his weekly purchase of lottery tickets.
As I was closing the car door to venture in with my father, my mom barked out from the back seat “Just don’t call him Sugar Daddy!” I smiled and suddenly realized from whom I get my brand of humor.
We sauntered into the store and my father put down his few bucks on the counter for his weekly gamble on lottery tickets. We both looked at the adult section and before we parted the slapping saloon doors, my father turned to me and asked “Ya ready?” with a half grin, half concerned look on his face. Even with all of my experience in this field, walking through the doors with my Dad of basically a porn store suddenly made me feel like a jittery teenage girl. “Sure…” I smiled, taking a deep breath and thinking how this was a big, memorable leap for both of us.
Upon entering the small adult area, I entertained my father by pointing to all of the stars on the packages of vibrators and VHS tapes that I had met and who were friends of mine. He was looking at products in the same way as he would look at tools in the Sears store, knowing what they were for but not needing to ask. I showed him the sex toys that were really good and the tired ones that had been on the slat wall hooks for too long and within three minutes, we covered the entire section that I had once thought was so taboo. “Ya done?” he asked with the same nonchalantness as his first inquiry. “Yeah, I am,” knowing that my dad and I had crossed yet another threshold in our continued relationship.
When we got back to the car, my mom immediately asked if we bought anything. My response was a clear “No, mom, because I can buy it wholesale” and we proceeded to drive home continuing with our normal automobile banter.
While I was in Boston, I always made it a point to visit the now defunct Combat Zone to see the old-school kinds of stores that were there even after I opened Grand Opening! One store had a display that had 10, hard wired, plug-in, “flesh colored” realistic vibrators in a plexiglass display case with buttons you could push to activate each one of them (this predated the scientifically sophisticated, battery operated toys on the market today). I was able to spread my fingers in a way to make them all twist and writhe simultaneously, much to the entertainment of the staff and any trench coat-wearing customer in the store. Ah yes, those were the days.
And yet there are still adult store truck stops that haven’t seemed to have changed much over the decades. They offer the same basic items of lubes, strokers, vibrators, books and DVDs in stores that are just off the highway, allowing those long-distance haulers a chance to lighten their load by 10ccs to effortlessly roll onto the interstate truck scales. The clerks are usually men who can relate to other men and women who have probably experienced quite a few of men themselves, both parties having enough experience to suggest a good purchase for the old lady waiting for them back home. Sometimes these stores still have an arcade in the back allowing those truckers to view privately chosen adult fare like “Tranny Surprise” or “Butt Fuckers 14” – movies that the wifey has no idea that he’s watching but that’s another column.
On the far end of the opposite side of the spectrum are the boutiques that thrive on upscale customers and upscale products. Oddly enough but not surprisingly, these stores carry basically the same exact products: vibrators that vibrate, rabbits that stimulate here and there, pocket pussies for men to stick their dicks into whether they drive Porsches or Mack trucks. And every kind of lube that’s better than spit. Come to think of it, with both stores and the products, it really all comes down to the packaging.
So make room for me when I saunter in your store looking like the middle aged woman who’s never owned a vibrator, never sucked a dick, never worn a strap-on and never has stepped foot in an adult store. I’ve been there and done that and will never stop experiencing it all. See ya in your store.
Kim Airs is the founder of sexuality boutique GrandOpening.com. She is a consultant for all aspects of the adult toy industry: training, sales, marketing, etc. She loves her job!