DENVER — Two childhood friends have partnered up to open Denver's only female-owned independent sex shop.
Awakening Boutique, started up by Colorado natives Tory Johnson and Rose Kalasz, launched three weeks ago at the Modern Nomad design collective, offering an array of high-end, nontoxic, eco-friendly sex toys, along with handmade lingerie, apparel, books and home goods.
The store also plans on hosting educational speakers, dramatic readings of romance novels and workshops in the future. It also will be available for bachelorette and birthday party pop-ups.
The Mile High City once had other female-owned sex toy stores, including Hysteria and Smitten Kitten, but both outlets closed their doors years ago.
Johnson and Kalasz told Westword that they simply were looking to create a sex-positive “space for people to learn and explore their sexuality” while also selling body-safe sex toys.
“We feel like even though a lot of toys are made for female pleasure, it’s all about the male gaze, Johnson said. “Like the little French maid costume. If a woman feels empowered by that, that’s great, but I feel like a lot of these are stereotypes of what a woman is to be for the male gaze; she’s a vessel for male pleasure and not an entity of her own.”
“I talked to so many women my age who said they’ve never been to a sex store, who were like, ‘I’ve always felt intimidated ... and that’s really surprising to me. Denver’s a super-progressive and modern city,” Johnson said
While starting up the brick-and-mortar business, Johnson and Kalasz found that mainstream America has not completely opened its financial doors to businesses like theirs. In fact, some shame businesses selling sex toys and related items. Both Paypal and Square barred them from processing charges.
“We got turned down immediately for a bank account because of what we sell,” Johnson said. “Even though a lot of the products we sell are T-shirts and candles and home goods ... just because we have adult toys and things that are of a sexual nature, we got turned down.”
Johnson said that she’s learned that going into a sex shop might be a new thing for some customers. But once through the threshold, many like what they see and are curious.
"I think a lot of people think you have to be a little bit kinky to go into sex shops, and I think all of those are absolute misconceptions."
Awakening Boutique is located at the Modern Nomad collective at 2936 Larimer St. in Denver.