The Pleasure Chest started in 1971 in New York, at the height of the sexual revolution. Founders Duane Colglazier and Bill Rifkin started out selling water- beds, but found unexpected success in selling erotic novelties like mood lighting, cock rings and handcuffs. They decided to turn the store into a full fledged sex shop.
The company’s first location, which opened in a 47” x 12’ long space in the West Village in 1971, challenged convention by refusing to block out the store windows with XXX, which was standard for any store with adult material. Founders Duane Colglazier and Bill Rifkin aimed to create a department store feel. “We treat our customers just as though they were walking into Gimbel’s to buy a table and chairs,” said Bill Rifkin in an interview in 1972. This simple principle continues to guide and set the Pleasure Chest apart today, now under the leader- ship of Duane’s nephew Brian Robinson. Pleasure Chest’s bold embrace of sexual- ity, particularly alternative sexualities, as a healthy part of life has garnered loyal fans along the way such as Joan Jett, who has been quoted saying she bought her leather ringed belt from the Pleasure Chest’s Los Angeles store, and gave it to Sid Vicious. The belt can be seen in many photos of them from the 70s. Pleasure Chest even inspired Queen, whose 1978 song “Let Me Entertain You” contains the lyrics:
• If you wanna see some action
• We get nothing but the best
• The S & M attraction
• We got the Pleasure Chest
PHOTOS COURTESY PLEASURE CHEST + WRITING ALEX BONNET
From the 70’s on, the Pleasure Chest has been at the center of our culture’s ongoing sexual revolution. Just as Deep Throat made its mark on the world of porn, the Pleasure Chest opened its first location. As the celebrations of sexual freedom of the 70s were tempered by the brutal reality of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, Pleasure Chest faced its own heartbreak at losing many of its leaders to the disease.
By the 90s, Pleasure Chest had be- come the go-to Hollywood spot for all things fetish, such as when the Pulp Fiction costume designers were looking to dress the famous Gimp character and rented the costume from the Pleasure Chest. In the late 1990s, when Sex and the City took the world by storm, no other store would do for their famous Rabbit episode. For nearly five decades Pleasure Chest has continued to embrace sexuality in all its forms and has positioned inclusivity at the heart of all business decisions – from hiring practices and product selection to community engagement and design. As a result, the shopping experience continues to have extensive appeal. Pleasure Chest’s roots in the gay community have held even while also creating a safe space for straight couples to explore.
Both the convenience-minded consumer, who can enjoy the ease of stocking a friend’s bachelorette party while upgrading their pleasure collection to the newest toy in one stop, and the luxury shopper, who is looking to indulge in one-of-a-kind pleasure objects, share a love for the Pleasure Chest. Since 2008, PleasurEd has offered nearly 1500 free classes on topics ranging from
oral sex tips and tricks to bondage as meditation and queering your sex to over 30,000 attendees and has trained 60 Pleasure Chest educators. By mar- rying a vibrant legacy, a mission of inclusivity and an unmatched adapt- ability to the growing and changing pleasure market, Pleasure Chest has persisted as the oldest sex-positive retailer in the country. With 5 loca- tions in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and a new e-commerce platform launching in 2017, Plea- sure Chest is not only legendary af- ter 45 years but also still evolving.
How do you go about making first timers feel safe and comfortable?
Approaching a first-time guest who has never been in an adult boutique can be hard but once I break the ice with them, I like to make them feel comfortable by first acknowledging them, crack a smile and let them know I am there to help them. Most important is to give them their space and let them explore. It usually doesn’t take long for them to start asking questions about products. I have been in adult retail for 23 years and through the years I have retained customers who come to see me be- cause I make them feel comfortable.
What does the training for the employees look like when dealing with the sale of sex toys?
Training is extensive since there are always new products coming out. We have trainings with the toy companies so we can better understand the products when it comes to features. Before the pandemic we had training frequently. We are barely resuming training now since they lifted the mask mandate in West Hollywood.
Which toy would you say is the most dominant one in the store?
There is no one dominant toy in the store since we have the store separated into different sections, so they all have their favorites. The We-Vibe Chorus is very popular with couples. It allows for stimulation both internally and externally. This toy can be used while having in- tercourse or solo play and the partner can control it via the cell phone from any part of the world which people tend to like.
And what about an indoor bedroom?
We have a lot of things for the bedroom that are popular depending on what the customer is looking for. We have from small little bullets that can be used alone or with a partner to dual stimulators (insertion and external vibrators) all the way to bondage restraints. I would say it depends on the customer’s curiosity to try new things or their level of experiences.
Any advice for individuals looking to explore sex at a much deeper level?
Yes I do. I can’t stress enough communication, communication, com- munication. Couples should learn to first communicate their needs, wants and feelings. It’s so hard for couples to communicate out of fear of being judged by their partner. Relax and have fun it’s just sex.
Are sex shops still under the “taboo” stigma or are people are more open to it?
When I first started working in adult retail I used to work in what was known as a porn shop, very edgy and dangerous in the area I worked in which made it more taboo to go into one of those places. Working at the PleasureChest for the last 13yrs has changed my preception of what an Adult store is. The owner prides in making the store feel more like a boutique and I get customers tell me that The PleasureChest is the Tar- get of sex toys. Fast forward to this time and age more people are more open to going to adult stores.