Two women had planned to open one of the first "sex-positive" sex shops in downtown Iowa City. But now their landlord is trying to kick them out, claiming their products are offensive.
According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Julia Schaefer and Madison Montgomery had planned to open The Tool Box on Friday. But on Nov. 30, they received a letter from a law firm stating that they'd violated the terms of their lease and their landlord planned to boot them. The letter said that they'd specifically violated their agreement "not to sell any product lines that will offend our clients," and that they hadn't been clear that they'd be selling sex toys. The firm referenced a Nov. 28 Daily Iowan article, saying, "It is clear from your statements in the newspaper article that your prior attempts to find a space for a ‘sexually-themed' retail shop were met with resistance, and that you intentionally failed to disclose the specific nature of your business." Schaefer and Montgomery say they weren't trying to fool anybody:
We're really disappointed that they didn't decide to talk to us before going through a lawyer. No one asked us or approached us or even saw our space before they started going through this process.
The owners also say their store provides an important alternative to existing sex shops in the area, which are porn-heavy and located in "seedy" neighborhoods. Romantix, where I did some shopping for a friend's bachelorette party in 2010, isn't in an especially seedy place, but it isn't in the student-heavy downtown area The Tool Box sought to enter. And the "Adult Superstore" by the side of the highway on the way to Des Moines always looked like a great place to get murdered. Ruby's Pearl, a feminist-identified sex shop and art space, operated downtown for four years, but closed in 2005 due to money problems.
Any sex shop in downtown Iowa City will likely run up against a certain culture clash. Iowa City is a college town with a punk scene, an organic food co-op, a nationally famous independent bookstore, and a largely liberal vibe — it was a major campaign hub for Obama in 2008, and may be one (to a lesser extent) in 2012. But it's also in Iowa, a Midwestern, largely rural state where an anti-gay-marriage amendment is scheduled to go before the state Senate this year. Of course, conservatives are only pushing that amendment because gay marriage was legalized in Iowa in 2009. Many credited that decision to the state's general "live and let live attitude," an unwillingness to judge or get wrapped up in other people's business. The Downtown Association of Iowa City appears to be taking such an attitude toward The Tool Box — says executive director Nick Arnold, "As long as the business is operating legally and is a good member of the business community, I don't foresee there being an issue with it." But the landlords apparently feel that The Tool Box is getting all up in their business by selling sex toys on their premises. And unfortunately, the fact that they've taken offense may mean downtown Iowa City may not get the sex-positive store that many residents would probably enjoy.
Iowa City Landlord Tries To End Lease Of "Sex Positive" Shop [Iowa City Press-Citizen, via Des Moines Register]