RISQUE RETAILERS FIND A NICHESHOPS GET NO CONDOM-NATION AT PARK CENTRAL
Park Central, Phoenix's original mall now suffering from declining-tenant flu, recently has added two new stores. What's unusual about these two businesses, located just a few storefronts apart on the mall's north leg, is their, um, orientation.
Unaffiliated in any way besides thematically, both stores deal in "adult" products--condoms, flavored love gels and risqu (even edible) apparel. The mall manager says the shops are on "the cutting edge of retailing."
Snow Goose, a boutique specializing in condom sales, made its way to Park Central via a retailing trail of tears. Secrets for You, dealer of "sensual" gift baskets, began life just two months ago as a homemaker's telephone-order business. Both stores seem to be catching on with Park Central's midtown client base, a daytime-only mob of office workers, lawyers and other well-dressed wage slaves. After operating successfully for several months in Tempe's Hayden Square, Snow Goose co-owner Dennis Grau followed a general tenant exodus out of the financially troubled Mill Avenue shopping and entertainment center and decided to relocate. But Grau, who at the time was calling his store Condom Sense, was denied leases by skittish managers at several other shopping centers, including, he says, the Cornerstone Mall at Rural and University, and Tempe Center at Mill and University, which has been owned and operated since 1983 by Arizona State University.
Each of the center's managers, Grau says, objected to either the store's name or its ribbed-and-reservoir-tipped inventory. "We were basically without a store for six months while we searched," he says. "Our favorite answer was the one we got from ASU. 'Your product is not conducive to the clientele we want to attract to the plaza.'
"Which is absurd," he says, pointing out that Tempe Center currently houses a huge Tower Records outlet and a liquor store, respective purveyors of corrosive rap CDs, punk fanzines, distilled spirits and skin mags. Karen Kloc, an ASU administrator who serves as coordinator for university property, confirms Grau's tale, adding, "I wouldn't say it was the name alone. We felt it wasn't the proper product line, period." A grim spokesperson for Cornerstone, asked for a spin on Grau's story, said, "No comment."
Grau thought he had found a good location in late summer, in one of the shops along Scottsdale's Fifth Avenue, and even agreed to rename Condom Sense to Snow Goose at the property owner's request. (The name has no double meaning," says Grau. "It's just a cute name that sticks in people's minds.") But when Grau put a sign in his window advising potential future customers that the store's merchandise would be rubber-related, "the landlord started getting sticky," he says. So Grau's Snow Goose migrated again. The store sells lots of condoms, of course, ranging from single packets at 69 cents to gala assortments costing up to $12. Grau says a variety of styles--including different sizes, strengths, colors and flavors--is available. (Snow Goose also stocks condom machines in a few local nightclubs.) Also offered at the store are risqu greeting cards, gag gifts and some clothing. Customer reaction, Grau says, has been for the most part mature, though a segment of the market still gets the giggles while condom-shopping. "A lot of people are still having fun with it," he says. "Between the cards and the condoms, there's a lot of laughing around here."
Janice Young, proprietor of the neighboring Secrets for You, says her clientele so far has been mostly women. "That doesn't mean men have to be afraid" of the store's wares, she says, which are gift baskets typically filled with champagne bubble bath, edible underwear, flavored body gels and lotions and humorous condoms. Each of the baskets also contains at least one nonhumorous condom, "to promote safe sex," says Young. Customers pick their own basket's contents. "I offer what I call a pleasure menu, in which customers can pick and choose from the menu and customize their own basket," says Young, who was at home raising her young son when a friend called from Chicago to pitch the gift-basket idea. "Most of the customers that come here are people who work in the businesses surrounding the mall," she says. "People think that business people are prudish, but the average one who comes in here thinks it's a real neat idea."
The average basket costs $35 to $45. Young has a couple of silent partners in her business, which she ran from her house for a month before moving to the mall. One of Young's silent partners is her husband, who came up with the store's name but who doesn't want his own name used in any newspaper story--for business reasons," says Young. Mall general manager Bill Taylor says he didn't blink when approached by either of his new tenants--also for business reasons. "We need tenants," he says. "The nature of the businesses caused me no concern. "A couple of tenants have been mildly offended, but others think it's great we have new tenants, especially tenants who are on the cutting edge of retailing."
Park Central, which in recent years has lost JC Penney, J.J. Newberry, Hanny's and other big stores, is in a fight for its life. Creative leasing--the mall also rents a storefront to a small theatre company--is one way to keep the ship from sinking any further.
Or, says condom merchant Dennis Grau, grateful at long last to have some square footage to call his own: "They need the ma-and-pa shops to survive.
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