As with any downtown, the storefronts and businesses along Fredericton’s King and Queen Streets can turn over like a newly-dealt card hand. Cafes come and go; restaurants retire and are replaced—but directly across from Officers’ Square, tucked in-between a government building and Molly’s Coffee House, is a business that has endured for over 20 years. Its customer base ranges from young to old; it appeals to all genders and sexual orientations. It offers entertainment and education, empowerment and experimentation.
Its name is Pleasures N’ Treasures.
“You have to laugh with us—there’s a WALL OF PENIS!”
“There are still a lot of people who think there’s something ‘wrong’ with sex shops—and even sex,” says Nicole Bent, manager of Pleasures N’ Treasures, Fredericton’s only adult boutique. “Even in this day and age, Fredericton is still pretty conservative. People seem to forget that almost everyone has sex; it’s a normal thing. But to go into ‘a place like that,’ to get toys, is somehow ‘wrong,’ and you shouldn’t do such a thing. So many people think of sex shops from the movies: neon lights, characters in a dark place, a dark DVD room…For lack of a better word, ‘sleazy.’ They associate sex shops with that idea—but they come into ours and they just see so much else.”
Indeed, step into the Queen Street storefront and you won’t find anything like the stigmatized stereotypes suggest. Instead, you’ll find a brightly-lit, bustling business; shelves are stocked with items of various shapes and sizes—and above all, a smiling staff member greeting you with warm enthusiasm. It is this part of the experience that Pleasures N’ Treasures prides itself on.
Bent and her staff recognize the uniquely overwhelming experience a sex shop visit can provide: “A lot of times when people come into the store for the first time, they look like a deer in headlights. They’re ready to run out,” she said with a lighthearted laugh, one of many she offered throughout our conversation—but their mission is to immediately make each customer realize there is absolutely no reason to feel uneasy.
“The main thing we really try to strive for when people are coming in is that they’re comfortable…I have so many people that come in and say they just expected it to be so awkward, and to be so judged by the workers—but we strive for the exact opposite of that. We laugh with them, we talk with them…we’re your new best friend, and people are surprised by that. If people leave laughing and with a huge smile on their face, we’ve done our jobs right,” she said.
“We always try to keep people laughing. If someone has this attitude like, ‘Oh, no, don’t laugh, this isn’t the place,’ we want them to know: ‘No, no, no, this is the place! You have to laugh with us—there’s a WALL OF PENIS,’” she says, offering yet another infectious chuckle. “People just take sex, sex toys—everything to do with the industry—way too seriously. It’s a very personal thing to have sex with someone, and you need to be able to laugh at it. That’s when you’re going to enjoy it the most.”
By making customers feel comfortable, the staff are able to get them to open up—to others, yes, but also, perhaps, on a more individual level, too.
“I think what we’re really providing is a way for people to start better understanding themselves,” Bent suggests. “To feel more comfortable with themselves, and with the idea of sex.”
“We accept any sort of customer.”
“I have been trying to get a job here for the last four years,” says Amber Carter, with the bubbly energy befitting Bent’s description of her staff. “Human sexuality is something I’m super passionate about. I love facilitating people to take charge of their own sex lives—to know more and take care of themselves.”
Carter’s passion was on full display as she eagerly guided me on a tour of the store, describing the many products—and many products there are indeed: from dildos to DVDs, lingerie to lube, strokers to strap-ons and all things in-between. In recent years, the popularity of toys has significantly increased; upon first opening, the store sold roughly 95 per cent videos, and barely any toys—but it’s now the exact opposite, as people rarely buy DVDs anymore. The store instead focuses on toys and lingerie, with new items continuously being added to reflect the current zeitgeist—including ones that can be controlled via an app for long-distance couples like truck drivers or those in the military. Increases in devices designed and marketed by women and / or transgender individuals, are also reflected.
These varied items require staff with as deep a knowledge and understanding as Carter’s, and this speaks to the importance of having a physical location for customers to visit.
“A lot of people seem to really enjoy getting to talk about these things in person—getting to actually hold a toy and figure out if it’s something they’d want to use,” Carter said. “By having a physical space, customers have access to information that if they’re buying online, they wouldn’t have. A lot of sites, for instance, won’t tell you that you shouldn’t use silicone lube if you’re using a silicone toy—but I’ll explain all the things that they need to know.”
The physical location is important not just for offering knowledge, but for offering a safe space.
“We try to keep from ever being discriminative in any sort of way,” Bent claims. “We accept any sort of customer—no matter whether they’re males, females, no titles; no matter the sexuality or age. We have people from first-year university to easily in their late 80s coming in. And they’re able to tell us things they don’t necessarily tell a lot of other people…We try to keep it as a safe place, a safe space.”
This emphasis on inclusivity and acceptance transforms Pleasures N’ Treasures into more than just a business, and perhaps accounts for its longstanding success. Pleasures N’ Treasures is not just a space that provides for a community—it helps build one.
“It’s good for people’s relationships, and it’s good for people’s self-confidence to be able to take care of themselves. It makes people happier, and if you have happier people in a community, that’s always good,” says Carter.
“It gives an open space for everyone to find out what they like,” added co-worker Michael Levesque. “Plus,” he continued, with trademark PN’T playfulness, “If there wasn’t this kind of space here in Fredericton, it’d be…I dunno…boring.”