Residents concerned about adult toys, retail store in Madison neighborhood

MADISON, Wis. – It’s a new business in Madison that has polarized the surrounding community – Romantix.

After it opened at the busy intersection of Maple Grove Dr. and McKee Road last Friday, some said it should be somewhere else where kids can’t see it, while others said it allowed the community to start having conversations about sex that we might find difficult.

“We are the number one romance retailer in the United States,” said Joshua Porter, vice president of operations at Romantix. “This is our 8th store we’ve opened this year and it was our best opening weekend by far.”

But the channel’s choice to open in the old Family Video building has rubbed some nearby residents the wrong way.

“There’s a daycare nearby, there’s a high-speed gas station in the neighborhood that a lot of people from the neighborhood visit,” Kenneth Brown said.

Brown is the president of the Stone Meadows Neighborhood Association (SMNA). Earlier this month, he joined other residents in expressing their concerns to Porter and city officials during a virtual town hall.

“The most important thing is the visual impact on everyone who walks around the neighborhood, the young people, the school that stops there,” he said.

After hearing those concerns, Porter said Romantix strives to be good neighbors. Next week they will “put 80% tint on the windows, which will make it very difficult to see inside.”

The town hall took place after the store received the green light from the city to operate as a retail space.

“At the time, we were too close to opening to make any drastic changes,” Porter said.

According to city zoning ordinances, Romantix did not need to apply for an adult entertainment license because “more than ten percent of available floor, wall and display space was not dedicated the sale, rental or lending of “photographs, photographs, drawings, motion pictures or similar visual representations or images … relating to specified sexual activities or specified anatomical areas”.

“The products that we carry, some of them have nudity on the packaging and we’ve included that in our percentage count,” Porter said, “but that’s way below the 10% number that we would require an adult license.”

Adult entertainment or not, Brown said the community should have been asked whether or not they wanted a sex toy store in their neighborhood.

“It would have been nice if before this approval was sent, residents and people in the area had had a little more information about how the law was being applied in this place,” Brown said.

But a store is a store, Porter says.

“People come to our stores daily to meet daily needs,” he said. “Just because it’s something you don’t personally enjoy or aren’t interested in, doesn’t mean the person next to you isn’t.”

‘It’s a great opportunity for us to talk about ‘why are we so uncomfortable?’

According to Brown, exposing children to store content was at the heart of their complaints.

“Right now people are saying they don’t like walking at night with their kids,” he said.

But Ellen Barnard sees it as “a great opportunity for us to talk about ‘why are we so uncomfortable?’ What are we afraid of and how do we deal with it without waiting for someone else to deal with it for us? »

Barnard owns A Woman’s Touch, what she calls a feminist sex shop.

“Our goal is really education, and carefully selected, curated information and products to help people improve their sexual health and well-being,” she said.

A social worker herself, she understood that people were not comfortable with their children who asked questions like “Mom, what is Romantix, what do they have in inside?”

“I can hope Mom’s answer will be, ‘It’s a place where adults find things to make their relationships stronger and better,’ she said.

A conversation that may not be easy.

“Acknowledge that it’s going to be uncomfortable, right?” you are not taught to talk about it… Be ready to laugh a little, to blush a lot. Blushing is fine,” she said.

Brown said this came up in the discussion of the neighborhood’s response to Romantix. “Again, like everything else, there is a time and a place – and we felt that was not a good place to have this conversation.”

“We obviously know these things exist in the world and we don’t protect our children from any of this. But it’s just not something we would look to put in an all-residential neighborhood,” Brown said.

“Give us a chance, give us time”

Porter argues that he hasn’t faced a neighborhood response to Ronantix like this.

“It was our 8th store we opened this year and it was the first that we had a real backlash,” he said.

So he asks the community to be patient. “Give us a chance, give us time.”

He recalled how, after the town hall meeting, he gave residents his email address to hear further comments.

“Someone came up, answered me and said ‘after I walked into the store, that’s not at all what I expected, that’s not what I thought it was was going to be. I’m still not a patron of this type of business, but I’m much more comfortable with it than I was originally,” Porter said.

For now, the store is here to stay, which Brown said residents know.

“We weren’t against the company itself, it’s just its location.”