Nestled snugly amid the vast number of shops along South University Avenue, Ann Arbor’s Safe Sex Store catches its fair share of inquisitive eyes from the pedestrians walking along the sidewalk. While almost everyone has seen the store, not all are aware of the store’s mission and role in the community.
The blue trimmed store is no dirty adult novelty shop that no one with a good reputation would dare be seen entering.
On the contrary, upon entering one cannot help but notice that the store is the paragon of organization and cleanliness. The racks and shelves are set up in such a way as to allow the viewer to comfortably peruse the products on sale.
And unlike some stores whose main goal is to provide enjoyment – something that can be found a plenty at the Safe Sex Store – this shop has a different goal. The cozy spot has had one simple goal since it opened eight years ago.
“The biggest focus ever since the store opened is on education,” Beth Karmeisool, owner of the Safe Sex Store said. “Our purpose is to form a safe comfortable environment for our guests to ask questions and feel safe about their purchases.”
Karmeisool says You would be hard pressed to find graphic nudity on display in the store, because does not buy products from her suppliers that contain lewd, degrading or threatening material on the packaging.
She says she does this is in effort to make all her customers feel as comfortable as possible. Karmeisool does not want anyone to feel threatened or intimidated by the material in the store and tries to ensure that the people who shop there feel safe.
“I put a lot of care and effort into keeping the packaging as clean as possible,” Karmeisool said.
This care is necessary because although the store is located near campus, it serves a wide variety of customers who shop there.
“We have a lot of students, but it is really a mixed age group who come in here,” Amanda Dotten, the store’s manager, said.
These different customers all bring different levels of comfort and sensitivity to the subject matter and the store is designed to make all of those who wish to shop there feel safe and respected.
This philosophy applies not only to the products, but also and perhaps even more importantly to the staff who work at the store. Karmeisool has four people who work for her and all are trained to make the customers feel as comfortable as possible.
Karmeisool puts a great emphasis on customer care and attention. Whenever a customer enters the store, they are greeted by one of the staff who typically asks icebreakers to make the customers feel welcome and alleviate any tensions they may have.
“Our customers truly are friends,” she said.
Karmeisool says the majority of customers who come in are comfortable before they walk in the door, but some are not. Any customer who is unsure if he or she will feel comfortable in the store need not worry, because Karmeisool and her employees go to great lengths to make these customers feel as comfortable as possible.
“Once they come in the door we receive compliments of, ‘Wow this is really nice,’ or ‘This isn’t what I expected’,” Karmeisool said. “These compliments come from all age groups.”
One of the greatest benefits of the customer-centered service is the personalized gift bags you can create. With the help of one of the store’s staff, you can go around the store assembling a cornucopia of items that fit your price range and your comfort level. With the help of the staff you can create a unique gift to fit one’s financial needs.
“You don’t need to spend a lot of money to enjoy the products,” Karmeisool said.
The store also has many repeat customers, some of which go on to be employees – Karmeisool currently has two staffers who were customers first. All the employees of the Safe Sex Store are certified in sexual health and education by the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project.
The Safe Sex Store’s commitment to AIDS prevention and awareness extends beyond just training its employees. Part of the proceeds from every sale the store makes is given to MAPP.
The store is also sponsoring an event called Aphrodisia this weekend. Aphrodisia is a wine-tasting benefit for MAPP, which the store hopes to raise $10,000 for the organization, to be held Sunday, Feb. 16, at Goodnite Gracie. Tickets, which are tax-deductible charitable donations, are $45 for an individual and $80 for a couple for the wine tasting.
The Safe Sex Store will also come to you in its “S3 at home” program. Representatives from the store will come to your home and demonstrate some of the stores most popular items. The sex toy parties are mostly bought by women for girls night out or bachelorette parties.
“We like to keep everything real discreet so as not to offend anybody,” Karmeisool said.
These sex toy parties are immensely popular and are equally enjoyable.
The store is not just all fun and games though. Karmeisool also holds seminars for sex education for college students. While the sex toy parties are typically held by women, the seminars are for anyone interested in sexual health and awareness. Karmeisool has been working with the University for the last four years, going to the dorms and classrooms in an effort to educate students about sex and sex education.
“The goal is to leave the audience feeling empowered with knowledge and added sense of respect for themselves,” Karmeisool said.