It’s not uncommon to see a building go from one purpose to another through the decades. Old box stores become churches, restaurants become reading rooms, and warehouses become condos. But no one could have ever expected that an old movie house in Florida would someday become the cornerstone of a chain of adult novelty retailers that has served generations of customers and fans through the years.
Fairville Megastores, which now boasts stores in Orlando, Cape Canaveral and Key West, started as a mainstream movie house, the Fairvilla Twin Cinema, in 1971 in Orlando, Florida. But like so many of its siblings, it fell on hard times and was forced to adapt. The business became one of Florida’s premier adult cinemas, and featured soft-core, full-length films and offered a small selection of adult novelties and pleasure items. Things changed again in 1992, when owners Bill and Shari Murphy expanded on the retail concept, and fashioned the business into Fairvilla Adult Video (the name later changed to Fairvilla Megastore).
“The idea itself, the concept, was so new,” says Tom Berger, CEO of the company. “But their idea was such a strong vision … there was something to it, something ‘we’ about the operation.”
It wasn’t long before the original Fairvilla Megastore became not only the largest adult store in the country, but also a different sort of retail experience.
“It’s become a place for single women to feel comfortable visiting,” explains Nikki Mier, manager of the Orlando store. “But we also cater to couples, men, tranvestities, you name it. It’s not just a store, it’s become a destination, a place to come to frequently.”
For Mier, concrete evidence of that love of Fairvilla came recently, when a 40-something-year-old woman brought in her mother to shop.
“That’s what I love about this place,” Mier says. “It is a place where a woman feels comfortable bringing in her mother. It’s not uncommon for us to have three levels of a family tree, plus a few branches, shopping our stores!”
That sense of community radiates not only through loyal customers, but also employees. Each of the stores has employees who have worked for years; decades in some cases. Berger has been with the company for several years, starting there after retiring from Disney.
“We’re just losers who can’t get a job anywhere else,” he says with a laugh. “No, seriously, I really think it’s because the way we’re organized gives ownership to everyone in the staff. Most everybody is a piece of our ongoing creation.”
That ongoing creation includes the second and largest – at more than 15,000 square feet – Fairvilla Megastore, which opened in Cape Canaveral in 1996. It was another case of Fairvilla repurposing a building, too. The structure was originally used as a religious attraction, modeled after King Solomon’s Temple, and then was home to several nightclubs and even a nautical museum before its latest incarnation. And it was at this store that Fairvilla employees broadened their sense of community. In August 2001, the location welcomes more than 1,800 women for Ladies Night, which was a private event complete with chocolate-covered strawberries, champagne, a vendor row with displays on erotic technologies, and a performance by the Male Dance Review.
Just as the chain has grown – a third store opened in October 2002 in Key West – so have its events.
“It’s nice, because it really allows employees to promote their creativity,” notes Debra Peterson, director of marketing for the Fairvilla Megastores. “Through the years, we have participated in events with the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, called Sex and the Zoo. It’s been a big hit, and really helps show just how legitimate we are.”
Other events include sponsorship of the annual Fantasy Fest in Key West, Pride Fest, Women Fest and more. The social events have only reinforced Fairvilla’s standing with fans and neighbors. The Cape Canaveral store has even won awards from the city government for its landscaping practices.
“The secret is to know who you want as a customer,” says Berger. “And then you need to decide that you are going to cater to those customers in the best way you can. There is no real secret as to why Fairvilla has done better than some others who have tried to enter this same market. Our belief is that if we are going to carry candles, we are going to carry good ones. Our customers will appreciate that, and in turn they are loyal. They know to expect quality, and something a little different from Fairvilla.
“Beyond that, it’s a lot of hard work, but in a fun way,” he continues. “It’s a whole concept that we follow, not just for our customers, but for our employees, too. If you give them what they want, and give them quality, they will stick with you.”
For more information, visit Fairvilla.com.