One of Early 2 Bed owner Searah Deysach's sources of inspiration for opening her shop was a decidedly lame sex-toy shopping experience she endured several years ago.
"The worst reaction I ever got was asking a clerk what lube was best for anal sex and having her look at me like I was disgusting and then selling me such the wrong lube," she remembers. "That really was a turning point for me. I knew there had to be a better way."
Deysach says that there were a few couples-friendly sex shops in the Chicago area before she opened her doors in 2001, but they didn't go far enough in achieving a truly woman-friendly atmosphere.
"I had some experiences in these shops, where it was obvious that the staff was trained to sell products, not to help people [have] happier sex lives," she explains. "Of course I have to give props to [Toys in] Babeland and [San Francisco's] Good Vibrations. They were a huge inspiration and continue to be. I was just waiting, hoping they would open a Chicago branch, but I eventually realized that I just had to [open one] myself."
Deysach's store, in the Edgewater district and which was voted "best sex shop" in 2003 by Chicago's New City Magazine, sells "your typical sex-shop stuff," she says: vibrators, dildos, lube, butt toys, leather gear and adult movies and books. She points out, however, that, "We are very careful about the stuff we sell, and I think that's a big difference between us and many of the other local shops. Even if a toy is really hot, if we try it and don't like it, we won't sell it."
But more challenging than keeping her well-edited selection of toys stocked, Deysach says, is the porno section.
"Movies are the hardest to be diligent about because there are so many out there and so many that we feel degrade women," she says. "A huge percentage of our customers are women who are new to porn and want movies that are sexy and fun, not super-nasty, racist or degrading."
Indeed, shoppers looking for the nasty and degrading often leave Early 2 Bed empty-handed — and sometimes even ornery.
"At first we had a surprisingly large number of men who came into the shop and would actually get angry that we didn't have fake pussies or give massages," she says. "That was hard for me but made me more confident that we were setting up a women-friendly place, and if these guys didn't like it, then too bad."
The sex-positive, feminist focus of the store aside, perhaps more than anything, it's the workshops and community events that Deysach, who writes a sex column for Punk Planet magazine, offers after hours that sets her store apart from her competition.
"We have had workshops on everything from sexy letter writing to anal sex to tassel twirling to flirting and more," Deysach says. "We are always trying new workshops and expanding our educational programming."
In addition, Early 2 Bed has hosted events with authors Betty Dodson and Tristan Taormino and even threw an end-of-the-season party for a local roller derby league.
Although she says she was such a sex-toy novice when she first got into the business that almost everything surprised her, she couldn't believe how well the "Packies" (limp dicks for packing) sold. "We couldn't keep up with the demand," she says.
Another somewhat surprising retail trend: "Now that strap-on sex and anal sex among straight couples is becoming less taboo, we have more and more hetero couples buying dildos and harnesses," she reports. "It's awesome."
But even better is the unexpected level of enthusiasm Deysach sees in her clientele.
"The best is the probably hundreds of women who have come in here and said, 'Thank you for opening the store; I would have never gone to a sex shop if it weren't for this place,'" she says. "Those are the comments that got me though the rough parts of the first few years. I pasted all the positive emails I got in the beginning in my office, and when I had one of those days when I wanted to quit, I would read [them] and remember that what I was doing was making a lot of women really happy."
Information about E2B's "PleasureWare" parties (sex toy parties offered in the home for about $40) and workshops, as well as sex tips and advice, can be found on its website, early2bed.com.
Early to Bed
5232 N Sheridan Rd
Chicago, IL 60640-2513
Online store: early2bed.com