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Saturday, September 27 2008

Happy “Happy” Babeland

I started working at Babeland before it was called Babeland. Back then it was Toys in Babeland, a brilliant name, but one not so easy on the tongues of the masses. In 2001, when I joined the staff, we were one store in Seattle and one in New York. I felt like I was part of a movement about grrl power and queer power and it was exciting. I became more comfortable in my own skin and less quick on the trigger when it came to judging others, thanks to Babeland.

But the truth was, I loved helping people, and I loved watching them explore ways to improve their own sexual health and pleasure. Maybe I liked it too much at times, just ask my co-workers, but it gave me lots of fuzzy feelings to be a part of a sex positive movement. There seriously aren’t many retail jobs where you can get as much satisfaction, both as a customer and an employee. Our staff wanted to empower the world, one vibrator, one butt plug, one lube at a time. Word of Babeland’s stellar reputation made us a destination location. Zagat gave us customer service awards. People traveled from afar (from such places as the Upper West Side and abroad) to get a dose of what we offered. For the first time in my life, it felt like I was in the in crowd. And yeah, I liked it.

So, what was the experience? Things like re-shelving and alphabetizing, straightening and cleaning were all part of the package. But when someone walked into the store, whether she walked in to reclaim her body, or he waltzed in excited to explore his, there was always a level of trust between salesperson and customer. Different than any level of trust usually find in a retail environment. And we weren’t just sales people, we were sex educators. Each of us is, and was, here to do more than sell you a good time.

I really loved working at Babeland. I know because it was the longest time I spent at one job. If it weren’t for some of those closest to me, I don’t know when, or if, I ever would have left. After four years at Babeland, it was my NY family, and it was sad, at first, to leave. But things change. I’ve changed. Babeland has changed. But I wouldn’t be who I was without them.

What I loved most about Babeland is, and was, its heart. Claire and Rachel care about good sex, about having it, and about other people being able to have it too, so they saw a niche, and aimed to fill it. And thanks to other places, like Eve’s Garden and Good Vibes, they had support, and smarts, and made a way for themselves and their brand. When I started, Claire, one of the co-founders, was always working downstairs, in the dark hole of a basement, striving to make this company what it is today.

I appreciate who they are, and how far they’ve come. Tomorrow Babeland is celebrating their 15th anniversary (or is it more of a birthday?) in New York. It’s amazing how much has happened, not just in the world, but in the sex-toy business in  those last 15 years. Designer sex toys made by small companies are increasing the popularity of sexual pleasure, while also improving the standards of products, and inspired people opening sex-positive shops, both online and on land, are helping the sex-happy movement move into smaller cities and towns, and around the world. Places like Nomia in Portland, ME and Sugar in Baltimore, MD are just two examples of small terrestrial shops doing their thing, and doing it right.

In dog years, Babeland would be way old. In retail, well I think it still is. And that’s a great thing. I’m happy to see their mission spreading all over the world. Happy Birthday Babeland. You’ll always be family to me.

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