With its robin's egg-blue walls and colorful merchandise displayed inside a converted St. Claude Avenue shotgun, Dynamo Toys & Supplies (2001 St. Claude Ave.) could be any New Orleans boutique - until you notice the iridescent purple harnesses, or the rack of leather floggers, or the library of books with titles like 50 Shades of Kink and Naked at Our Age (Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex).
After more than four years of preparation, which included pop-up events and sex-positive workshops throughout the city, partners Hope Kodman and Nico Darling have opened what they say is the city's first adult accessory and toy store designed by - and for - women. The shop offers a curated selections of products meant to enhance the sex lives of clients of all genders, in a clean, welcoming space that is the opposite of seedy or cheesy Bourbon Street sex shops.
"We want to be a space ... that people would be proud to come into, and be seen leaving with a bag in hand," Kodman says. "[Where people] won't feel intimidated, and simply feel like they can talk."
[jump] Kodman and Darling met when they were both working at Trashy Diva, the women's fashion boutique. Darling had a history of managing a sex-positive Milwaukee, Wisconsin store called The Tool Shed. Kodman wanted to bring a new resource to New Orleans, after moving beyond her conservative Kentucky upbringing and discovering she enjoyed talking about sexuality.
"I got zero sex ed growing up ... I never even, like, put a condom on a banana," Kodman says. "When I got a little older, I wanted to talk to people about kink and fetish and safer sex. ... Let's talk about this. No one ever asks."
The pair hit it off as business partners, and spent several years raising money (adult businesses aren't eligible for loans, they say) and renovating their space. The shop opened with limited hours this fall, with plans to expand its hours in December.
First-time visitors to the store can expect questions about what they're looking for from staff who are prepared to answer questions, take a more hands-off approach or even joke around, depending on how customers respond. Almost everything in the store is a demo model, so customers can touch the fawn-soft leather of chokers and leashes by local artisans such as Talisman Leather and Hellbent Leather; experiment with the speed and intensity of vibrating sex toys; and stop by one station to feel different brands of lubricant. (Paper towels are provided.) All toys sold in the store are tested for harmful chemicals including phthalates, which are plastic softeners that can give off a bad smell or leech into skin.
Both Kodman and Darling say the most important thing to them is creating an inclusive space for people, such as transgender people and sex workers, who might not feel comfortable talking about their sexual needs at other places. They also welcome couples who have never experimented with sex toys before, and want to create an open forum for women to get in touch with and be playful about their sexuality.
"[Historically], there hasn't been a lot of dialogue or a visual of female pleasure. It's also kind of a taboo thing to even talk about," Darling says.
Eventually, the pair wants to host gallery showings of erotic art in the store, as well as to continue adult sex education workshops they hosted before the boutique opened. It's part of their effort to become not just a retailer, but an asset to the local community.
"[Sex shops were] something that was taboo and forbidden, but not necessarily in a way that was fun," Kodman says. "We don't want to be something that people should be ashamed of or scared of."