Seven years after shuttering its first Valley location, Hustler Hollywood, an adult boutique created by Hustler honcho Larry Flynt, is re-opening across from Metrocenter Mall in northwest Phoenix, next to the I-17.
The lingerie and (grown-up) toy store officially opened to the public on Tuesday, May 10, but is hosting a grand opening soiree — complete with a visit from Flynt himself — at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 19.
Attendees can participate in an onsite raffle, and will be eligible for giveaways including products and shopping sprees. The store is also holding photo-shoot auditions to be the next "Hustler Honey," with the winning ladies receiving a $500 shopping spree and an appearance in an issue of Hustler. And though the event is far from family friendly, don’t expect any nudity.
Considering four similar sex shops are within a few miles, including an adjacent Castle Megastore, and a Fascinations across the interstate, the addition of Hustler Hollywood may look like an over-saturation of sex for this seemingly forgotten shopping center. After all, how different can a varied wall-to-wall array of dildos (some anatomically correct, some bright purple, some almost suspiciously small) be from one store to the next?
Well, if there's one thing Americans love, it's name-brand porn: the kind of recognition that has created a spinoff industry of Playboy bunny tattoos — both rhinestone and real — and Girls Gone Wild-sponsored spring breaks.
Flynt's Hustler empire is, arguably, the bridge between the two: less "classy" than Hef but less sleazy than Joe Francis. No one claims to read Hustler for the articles, but Flynt's legal battles and political persona have done more than the magazine's fair share of mainstreaming sex. (This is, after all, a society that has since taken to debating the "legitimate feminism" of Kim Kardashian's censored selfies.)
It's that same nod to the brand that sets Hustler Hollywood, the Larry Flynt Publications retail offshoot, apart. The sky-high "Hustler" sign is what will drive consumers into the store from the I-17, says Hustler Hollywood Vice President Philip Del Rio.
"The Hustler magazine is definitely rooted in a pornographic sort of energy, and that's the reason why we just didn't call it 'Hustler Store'," he says. "We called it 'Hustler Hollywood' to add a little bit of glamour to what is largely a pornographic name, and Larry definitely wanted the retail environment to be more sophisticated. [But] at the end of the day it's all about sex — I mean, a lot of things are."
Sex does sell, and inside the store it's just as easy to shell out $10 to $15 for a pocket rocket as it is to rack up a credit-card bill for a $700 simulated sex machine.
The boutique's popular and high-ticket items include the Lelo line, which ranges from $150 to $200 and features a certified 24-karat gold toy; the We.Vibe couples vibrator ($150 for the app-only component; $170 for the app and remote) — a great buy for long-distance or military couples, says general manager Jennifer Bonwell; and Vanity by JOpen, which comes in sleek purple and pink designs with a 10-year warranty to match ($169.99).
But even with all the adult entertainment, the DVDs and half-dolls and extensive fetish section, the retailer's biggest sellers are the Hustler-themed apparel items.
"We do an extensive amount of apparel; we do a really sophisticated type of lingerie. We do want to offer a mainstream product assortment," Del Rio says. "If you look at what we do versus almost all of the other adult retailers out there, we do a very significant amount of branded apparel because that Hustler name, it definitely means something."
"We like to think of ourselves as a boutique instead of a sex store," Bonwell adds.
And that's exactly what the store feels like at first step: a Hustler-themed clothing store.
The salespeople are warm and welcoming, and everything in the front, from the sleepwear to the walls, are hues of pinks and yellows. The music is a club mix of tired Top 40 and approachable EDM. There are gold disco balls suspended from the ceiling, and a giant plush high heel near a display of black-and-red lingerie ($24 to $70). Wigs. Lotions for him and her. Male lingerie. An entire display dedicated to Flynt, featuring both his autobiography, An Unseemly Man: My Life as Pornographer, Pundit, and Social Outcast, and copies of the 1996 film The People vs. Larry Flynt, starring Woody Harrelson.
There are no blacked-out windows, no stained floors or bad track lighting. There isn't a crudely designed dick in sight until the back bachelorette wall, right before entering the 18-and-over section.
But it is a sex store — a fact that's hard to deny when half the floor space is dedicated to things that go bump in the night. And that may have been part of why the first incarnation of Hustler Hollywood was less than successful in Tempe. The Hustler clientele isn't 20-somethings with high sex drives, agree Del Rio and Bonwell. They're 30- and 40-year-olds. Long-term or married couples. Military couples (who coincidentally get a 10 percent discount). Partners looking to get out of missionary and into, well, something else. Exotic dancers (who also receive 10 percent off). Gay men.
Not that Tempe isn't home to that population — and in droves. But rather that the visibility and destination appeal just wasn't there for the building on Broadway Road, according to the company. And so, over the summer of 2009, it became a preschool. Such is the circle of life — or at least the reality of retail.
"That location in Tempe was not a good location," says Del Rio, who chuckles when asked about it and says he wasn't part of the company when that store opened. "We tend to do really well, as a lot of adult retailers do, in very visible, sort of off-the-freeway locations. When we saw this location at Metrocenter, we thought it was very obvious because of the visibility off the freeway. Phoenix is a lot more progressive than Tempe — it's the Los Angeles of Arizona — and that's where we need to be. We need to be in these mainstream parts of the state. For us, Phoenix was definitely that."
There's already talk of another Phoenix-area store or two, plus Scottsdale and Mesa locations.
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Still, even Del Rio admits Metrocenter is "the mall that everyone forgot." The southern Metro Parkway entrance spills out toward mounds of dirt, a chain-link fence, and a disheveled-looking shell of a structure, while the northern turnoff from Peoria Avenue is an endless loop of chain restaurants — one Red Lobster and Texas Roadhouse after another. It leaves one to wonder: Will even the promise of a little T-and-A tantalize shoppers into opening their wallets?
"We've had a lot of people come in that said they've been waiting for us to open because our sign's been up — we've been building for four or five months now," Bonwell says. "They've been excited to come in. A lot of people have been to Castle before, have been to Fascinations, so they're excited to see the way that Hustler does things.
"There will always be a stigma around [sex and adult boutiques], just because it is something very personal, but it is a lot more mainstream," she adds. "People will come in, couples will come in, and it's our job to make them feel more invited and comfortable."
The Hustler Hollywood Phoenix flagship is located between Metrocenter Mall and the I-17 at 10017 North Metro Parkway East. Open 10 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to midnight on Sundays. For store information and future events, click on hustlerhollywoodstores.com.