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CAYA worker-owner Jack Lamon, holding a big ol' box of dildos.
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Times are tough for mom-and-pop sex shops. Or so says Jack Lamon, one of four worker-owners at Queen West's Come As You Are co-op. Beset on one side by the rise of online retail and on the other by a rapidly gentrifying Queen West that retains little use for independently owned and anti-capitalist shops selling strap-ons, flesh-lights and sex positivity, Come As You Are's struggling toward the end of the fiscal year.
Come As You Are moved into its new digs at 493 Queen West last November, giving them an increase in floor space and a chance to capture walk-ins teeming around the busy Queen-Spadina corridor. But the move, Lamon says, has actually resulted in a decrease in sales.
"Generally, independent business are having a harder time competing with online," Lamon says. "There was an article on Salon [recently] about how people are buying so many sex toys, but Amazon.com is the biggest seller of sex toys in North America."
Despite a general trend towards people becoming more sex-positive, Lamon says that many consumers are still apprehensive about popping into their neighbourhood sex shop. The relative anonymity of online retailers - combined with lower prices resulting from lower overhead - is more attractive to folks interested in buying a sex toy.
"When you own a small business, people will come in, look at your products, see the prices, and then go online," Lamon says. "There are a few sex shops in Canada that don't have brick-and-mortar stores that will take away a lot of [our] business, which is totally fine. Even though we are an anti-capitalist business, we understand that we exist within capitalism."
What's more, Lamon says that many larger sex stores have cut into the indie market, with "sleazier stores co-opting sex positivity for their own marketing."
With diminishing revenues and staff cutbacks, Lamon is turning to the consumers for help. This Saturday, Come As You Are is hosting a "Use It Or Lose It" sale, offering up to 40% off sex toys, DVDs, lubes and more, in what a flyer touts as their BIGGEST SALE EVER [bolding and caps sic].
Determined to make it into the next fiscal year, beginning in April, with a balanced-budget (they've already cut staff, cancelled health insurance and lowered wages), Lamon is hoping the sale can help them bring in customers both new and old. While stores like this would seem to thrive on repeat business, Lamon notes that the increase in the quality of sex toys has created a "Catch-22" for retailers: with products being manufactured to higher quality standards, even veteran toy-users aren't buying a new item every six months or a year.
Also on Saturday, CAYA is hosting a hunt for what Lamon calls "the only Easter-appropriate sex toy" - Tenga Eggs, a male masturbation toy that comes packaged in an egg-shaped pouch (tagline: "Different strokes from different Yolks"). The eggs will be scattered around Queen West, and the first person to find six receives a $300 shopping-spree at the co-op.
Lamon stresses that Come As You Are isn't going out of business, or trying to liquidate their stock, but "just need help getting to April." As one of the last independently owned retail businesses on the strip, Come As You Are feels vital to any lingering sense of Queen West as being a neighbourhood, and not another bland commercial district. As landowners eye corporate retail chains for long-term leases, it's becoming increasingly difficult for renters - and especially those who practice a co-operative, anti-capitalist business model - to function as stakeholders in shaping a neighbourhood's character.
"As a co-op we've just never had the capital to own a building," says Lamon. "We have theoretical profit-sharing, that's part of our model, but survival has only ever been our goal."