Love, sex and economics

by Amy Kingsley

What does the price of crude oil in Saudi Arabia have to do with the sale of massage oil in Greensboro?

Maybe nothing. Or maybe something. It’s on her mind, anyway, as the owner of Adam & Eve on Spring Garden fishes for an explanation to a sudden mid afternoon lull in pre-Valentine’s Day business.

“The economy is really hurting us,” Mary Armstrong says. “People who have to cut back think of this holiday as the one you can nix.”

It isn’t just the economy, there’s also the weather. Meteorologists predicted record-setting highs today, and already the mercury has lifted into the upper 70s. The sun is cutting through racks of silky red lingerie pushed to the front windows – bathing the store in soft magenta.

“When it’s cold outside, people think about cuddling more,” she says.

Valentine’s Day rivals Christmas in fiduciary importance for owners of adult-oriented retail businesses. Yesterday, the Friday before Valentine’s, was crazy. But today, the traffic has slowed to a trickle.

So it’s a good time to talk about sex. Whatever you wanted to know about the collective libido of Greensboro, you can find out from the folks fanned out behind the counter. None of their shared wisdom is particularly earth shattering. Women gravitate toward coupon books, fantasy items, candles and massage oils. Men tend to buy lingerie.

“People have been buying a lot of crotchless panties,” says Anna Murray, a sales associate.

Adam & Eve is a classy joint, with tasteful displays of Kama Sutra massage oils and erotica titles visible on the spines of a row of books. Framed pin-up girls wink at customers from the walls. There’s a nook in the back with a trove of videos that includes Big Trouble in Little Vagina.

The naughty stuff stays in the back room – the Red Room – a cave of phalluses, technology and lubricant. Two tittering customers pause respectfully in the front room before darting into the Red Room, where they consult with Murray.

“Look at the size of that thing,” the older woman says. “It’s too… bulky.”

The younger woman emerges with a Double Dolphin vibrating cock ring and a vial of clear solution. She does not want the free gift wrap.

“I’m just going to add it to my box of toys,” she sings.

There are several men here today, thumbing through teddies and corsets, naughty nurse and erotic schoolgirl uniforms. One man, grinning widely, passes a pebbly vibrator and pink massage oil across the counter. He takes the gift wrap.

Lisa wraps the toys in pink tissue paper and sets them in a box. She finishes with a tangle of ribbons and returns the gift.

“You have fun,” she says.

“Oh,” he responds, “I will.”

It isn’t just people tethered to relationships who visit Adam & Eve on Valentine’s. Lisa says she’s noticed more single college girls coming in to buy gifts for friends.

“Just because you don’t have someone in your life doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate it,” she says.

Armstrong pushes a rolling rack and mannequin out onto the sidewalk to drum up more business.

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that catches people by surprise, turning the shopping into a last-minute frenzy. When it falls in the middle of the week like this, people tend to celebrate on the weekends. Some couples enlist grandparents to babysit and do it up at a hotel.

Armstrong expects business to pick up again. She’s opening the store for extended hours through the week, housing bust be damned.

“Even after nine-eleven, we didn’t get hurt as much as a lot of people,” she says. “Because sex is something people want to do when they’re feeling bad. It just makes you feel better.”

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