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Come As You Are on the brink?

Owners of Queen Street West sex shop worry they may soon be out of business

Come As You Are, at 493 Queen St W, is in danger of closing. A storewide sale is planned for March 30. Credit: Xtra files

The owners of Come As You Are, the friendly little Queen Street West sex shop, are struggling with a grim reality: their business is facing serious financial difficulties and may soon be forced to close.

The cooperative, which opened its doors in 1997, has survived two very rough years, says co-owner Sarah Forbes-Roberts.

“It is time for us to be honest about what is going on with the company,” she says. “We have all seen companies go out of business in Toronto that we’ve really treasured, so we wanted to give people a chance to come support us in these hard economic times.”

Being an independent retailer is getting increasingly difficult in Toronto, she says. In 2011, she and her co-owners were forced to move Come As You Are because its former home had been sold. The new location at 493 Queen St W is larger, allowing for more workshops and events, but it also came with higher rent. The owners begged the landlord to cut them a break.

“I think landlords are asking for more money than retailers can reasonably make to cover the rent. We are not a Chapters or Indigo,” she says. “So, we don’t know what the future holds for us.

“Also, I think in general, people are more comfortable buying sex toys and don’t need as much support as they used to. Buying sex toys is not as taboo as it used to be.”

Come As You Are is certainly not alone. Many other local sex shops and independent bookstores have closed or moved online. This Ain’t the Rosedale Library left the Church Wellesley Village in 2008 and closed its Kensington Market location in 2010. Other closures include Red Tent Sisters on the Danforth, Lucky You in The Junction and MissBehav’n on Queen Street. The Toronto Women’s Bookstore, a feminist institution for 39 years, closed in October.

Last year, Glad Day Bookshop, the city’s oldest queer bookstore, was also in danger of closing until a group of community members pooled their resources to save it.

On April 20, Glad Day will celebrate its first anniversary under the new ownership. Store manager Scott Dagostino says the shop has weathered a brutal storm, but it’s not out of the woods yet.

“In five or 10 years’ time, the only retail around will be Walmart, Amazon, iTunes and Target,” he says. “If you want to have a dildo aisle at Target, knock yourself out, but you’re not getting the personal service Come As You Are provides. It’s such a valuable resource.”

Dagostino says it’s incredibly depressing to watch the city’s independent sex shops and bookstores seemingly drop like flies. “People vote with their dollar,” he says. “When you eat lunch at McDonald’s, you are voting for more McDonald’s. When you buy a book at Amazon, you are voting for more Amazon. I wish people would be more conscious to give their dollars to independent stores.”

Forbes-Roberts says staff at Come As You Are worry every time an independent store closes its doors, knowing that they could be next. “There is a lot of competition, and it is not an equal playing field right now,” she says. “We have done what we had to do to keep it going.”

Much of the non-profit work in the community has been cut back, such as workshops and speaking events. Also, staff members have been reduced, hours cut back and many have taken reductions in pay, she says.

Come As You Are’s owners have even entertained the idea of closing down the bricks-and-mortar building to continue operations as an online-only store. “But we decided that the store is a valuable resource for people, providing a sense of community; they can come in to ask questions,” Forbes-Roberts says. “We really want to keep it going for our customers.”

So the team at Come As You Are is launching a campaign, dubbed Use It or Lose It, in the hope of enticing customers back into the shop, she says. From March 29 to 31, all sex toys and DVDs will be on sale in store and online.

“It’s important for people to remember we create the economy that we want,” Forbes-Roberts says. “We vote with our money by where we choose to shop. If we do close, it just means that people will not get the kind of quality service we have offered for years.”

On March 30, staff will hide Easter eggs in different locations around the Queen Street West area. Anyone who finds an egg and brings it into the shop will receive a free Tenga Egg, which contains a male masturbation sex toy. The first person to bring in all six will get a $100 gift certificate.

Come As You Are is located at 493 Queen St W. Visit them online at comeasyouare.com or follow them on Twitter @CAYA_coop.