Tucked away in a small town located in the heart of Central Washington, female-owned Eve’s Garden boutique has been thriving for 28 years.
In 1994, owner Tracy Burke was on the hunt for a bustier to wear during her wedding. Looking for something sexy but tasteful, she wasn’t sure where to find exactly what she was looking for. Burke inquired with her mother on where to find a “nice naughty” store in the area, but her expectations fell short when she arrived.
To help people maintain a healthy sexual lifestyle, which may have been impossible before, makes me feel that my job is very worthwhile.
“We walked in and immediately felt uncomfortable,” Burke recalls. “Not because of the products, but the clerk who treated us very coldly. We bought my bustier and left. I went home to my soon-to-be-husband, and I asked him how he would feel about me opening a ‘nice naughty’ store. He laughed, and said he didn’t mind.”
In addition to the lack of retail options in the area, Burke took note of a consistent pattern with her friends who were experiencing loveless marriages.
“Sooner or later, one of them cheated on their partner,” she said.
Between these two underserved markets, Burke set out to provide a welcoming, inclusive space for women and couples to purchase intimate items. Within three months, Eve’s Garden was born.
While the decision to open Eve’s Garden — a place to “keep the home fires burning” — came somewhat easily to Burke, she was not raised in a progressive, open-minded family while growing up.
“I was raised Jehovah‘s Witness”, Burke said. “My mom and I lived with my grandparents, and my grandfather was an Elder in the church. Although my mom and her husband were not strong in the church, they too had their beliefs.”
When Burke broke the news about opening a store in Yakima valley, where her mother was born and raised, she was met with skepticism and nervousness.
“She asked me, ‘what am I going to tell people?’”
Burke’s mother, however, eventually warmed to the idea, and ended up being responsible for the name of the store.
“We were discussing names, and my mom chimed in and said, ‘how about Eve’s Garden?’ Eve was kind of naughty!’”
So Eve’s Garden it was. Once word of mouth spread that Burke’s store had opened its doors, business started flowing almost immediately.
“I was only open one week, and all of these women came in and told me, ‘your mom told me about this place,’” Burke said.
While Burke was initially met by a close circle of supportive friends (and some family), she was not immediately welcomed with a warm embrace by the rest of the town at large. In fact, one of the biggest challenges she had to overcome as she opened her adult business came from resistance from the surrounding community.
Burke recalls, “People showed up at a town hall meeting, residents who did not want a store like mine in the vicinity. However, the city attorney spoke on the store’s behalf, and told them that we had done a very good job, and that was that.”
That was not the last time Burke was met with opposing views.
“The second major obstacle I ran into was with the court system,” she said. “I was in the middle of a divorce, and the court’s opinion on my business was that I was morally corrupt. I have run into the fact that our court systems have a very low opinion of our trade.”
Despite occasional dismissive opinions, Burke continued to work diligently, serving a grateful market. Within this span of time, she has watched four other adult-centric businesses come and go over the last 28 years. Burke names a few primary contributing factors to her success over the years.
Maintain a comfortable environment: “Above all, a customer’s comfort level is very important to us. We try to appeal to the human senses, including music and scent. We keep an oil burner going throughout the day, and music is always playing. Music gives customers the sense of privacy, and they can feel free have a conversation with their guest, or with an employee, without feeling like everyone may be able to hear.”
Hire a trustworthy staff: “I have found that hiring employees for this line of work is really quite hard. It takes a special kind of person to be able to talk to customers to help them find exactly what they are looking for. It always concerns me when someone says, ‘It looks like it would be fun to work there!’ Granted it is a nice way to earn a living — especially because it is interesting — there is constant work to maintain our business. Cleaning, organizing, being extremely attentive to our customers. All in all, I look for someone who is outgoing, and a great listener. Lastly, no one has more good intentions than you do as a business owner. Find an employee who will treat your store like their baby.”
Operate as a hands-on owner: “Work your store. Have at least 20 to 30 hours a week interacting with your customers. Their opinions are gold, and are the eyes and ears on what you can do to make your store successful.”
Customer service is queen: “The internet has changed the industry dramatically. I do see some changes happening that I would like to believe are becoming a trend. People are starting to realize that even though shopping online is convenient, sexual health and wellness items are one thing that requires a very personal shopping experience. Very frequently I overhear customers saying something along the lines of, ‘I tried purchasing online, but ended up receiving an item that I didn’t truly care for.’”
Burke’s bottom line is simple: “If they leave happy, they will come back.”
Burke has witnessed the evolution of product development and growing trends since the early ‘90s, including a whole new world of lubricants, enhancement supplements, technological advancements and product materials. With consistent innovative advancements, she has found joy in helping many customers.
“We have doctors that recommend their patients to make a visit to our store. I did not see this coming when I got into this business. They suggest a wealth of intimacy products to alleviate sexual side effects that may be caused by certain medications. To help people maintain a healthy sexual lifestyle, which may have been impossible before, makes me feel that my job is very worthwhile.”
Eve’s Garden has made it clear that there is a constant need and appreciation for sex-positive businesses, even in the smallest of towns. This brick-and-mortar has managed to stand the test of time, making a social and physical impact within a community despite a competitive and ever-evolving online economy. I know I speak for fellow female colleagues when I say thank you to Burke.