Before owning a brick-and-mortar retail store, I had a dream that I owned a sex shop. The following day, I went online and purchased about a hundred pieces of porn and sex toys, and I began selling dildos and vibrators out of the trunk of my 1993 gold Toyota Camry on the street corners of downtown Oakland. Selling sex toys allowed me to overcome my personal fear of the stigma tied to sex and sex work. It allowed me to develop meaningful ways to talk about topics such as sex, race, body image, and politics. While retail stores continue to close in downtown Oakland, Feelmore is still thriving, creating a space for people to shop comfortably and discretely. We’re also a date stop for couples who don’t drink. It just so happens that the late-night store that welcomes people is a “sex shop.”
Feelmore is the keeper of secrets such as: insecurities, infidelities, and sexual expression. Our ground-floor location represents a twilight zone for unlikely encounters and friendships to crystallize and collisions to occur. We make it part of our business model to hire Oakland residents referred by friends or family, as we want patrons and visitors in downtown to feel at home. The sale of each item is a story in waiting, a teachable moment to all parties involved.
Take a soft pack or a cock pump, for instance. From the perspective of a cis-gendered heterosexual person, the soft pack or the cock pump could be viewed as a novelty or an obscene sex device. However, for an individual transitioning from female to male or a lover experiencing impotence, those products can make a significant difference in their lives. We’ve had lovers of #PrisonBae come in on date night using FaceTime. A father has come in to buy his daughter Unicorns Are Jerks, which is a coloring book he thought would be a great way to have an open- ended conversation about sex. An abuelita has come in several times with a handwritten request to purchase her grandson’s masturbation sleeve.
The longer we are in business — Feb. 14 will mark our eighth year — the more we see our clients changing their relationship to sex and intimacy. It is an immense privilege to know that they choose to support us over our competitors because we meet their diverse needs. It is humbling for someone to trust you with some of their most intimate, private thoughts, knowing that we will never share them — and we never do. At Feelmore, we take pride in honoring every voice, free of judgment. We seek to build a sense of real community and belonging in a city that has endured and — continues to undergo — many uncertainties.
As an active community leader and small business owner, I adamantly believe that staying in business is important for Oakland’s morale and self-esteem. Preeminent scholars who have written about Oakland have emphasized its timelessness, resilience, grit, and determination to survive. Oakland is the City of Grit! Conceived and raised in the stomping grounds of Oakland, Feelmore is redefining the retail experience for the city, small business owners, and community residents. Feelmore is extremely excited to launch new products, workshops, and talent in 2018. Keeping with our tradition, we aim to preserve and build upon the hometown feel Oakland is known for.
At Feelmore, it’s about more than just sex — it’s personal!