Last spring when Coronavirus first took hold, no one knew the extent to which people’s lives –and livelihoods — would be upended. As the pandemic dragged on, taking many beloved businesses with it, the future remained unclear. However, among the many heartbreaking endings can be found a fair share of new beginnings. In Part 1 of a series exploring the trials, and unexpected triumphs of opening a business during the pandemic, KCAW’s Tash Kimmell spoke with Megan Cropley, who opened Sitka’s only adult boutique, “Pleasures All Mine,” in the midst of the lockdown.
When I arrive, Cropley has just carried a shipment of new merchandise up the flight of stairs to her rather discrete second story storefront.
“So I had actually signed the lease, before the pandemic really had started, and I was supposed to move in. But the day that I was supposed to open the whole town shut down,” she explains.
Any business person will tell you that timing is important. For Cropley, bad luck and bad timing were her first customers. Yet, despite early obstacles, her conviction was unshaken. She took the extra time to build out her space and better prepare her business for what she hoped would be a busy spring.
“It was slow at first, maybe the first like week, but then I utilized social media, and word of mouth, and it kind of just exceeded my expectations from the very beginning,” says Cropley.
She guides me around the store, a bright and airy space reminiscent of any small boutique. But instead of high end lotion, the shelves are stocked with adult toys and body-safe lube. From lingerie, to food shaped phalluses, Pleasures all Mine is sure to have something for everyone. Even so, Cropley admits that the array of brightly colored, and often oddly-shaped merchandise can feel overwhelming. She too was once a nervous first-time shopper, and works diligently to make her space feel welcoming.
“I remember walking into my first adult store and I was like, ‘What is all this?’ I remember being nervous, and I tried to revert back to that and just, you know, read the person, be helpful, but let them browse if they want to. It’s okay to be nervous. They typically come back and add a lot of toys to their collection really quick,” she said.
Despite being a relatively new business, Pleasures All Mine has gone through many iterations. Since opening last year with money saved from selling her car, Cropley’s business has grown exponentially.
“I started out very small. I’ve built this probably three or four times over since I’ve been open. I was actually looking at pictures from a year ago. And I was like, Oh my gosh, I just did it. I just I opened — it was so empty. It grew quick, which was nice,” said Cropley.
From its humble beginnings in the depths of the pandemic, Pleasures all Mine has established itself as a business that’s here to stay. It’s not the kind of business you’d expect to find in such a small community, let alone nestled in the center of downtown. But despite the taboos that come with owning an adult store, the response has been positive.
“People have been extremely supportive and very accepting. I have people that come in every week since I’ve been open, and they say, ‘Thank you for being here,'” Cropley explains.
Cropley’s clientele don’t fall into any one demographic. As such, it’s her job to make everyone who enters her store comfortable, especially when speaking intimately about a traditionally private part of their lives. When Cropley says it takes a special person to do this work, I believe her. But with her warm and friendly demeanor, I believe she might be one of them.
“I have a lot of good feedback, like, ‘You’re so approachable’, and you know, people come in and they talk about very intimate subjects,” she says. “And that makes me feel good that they can come to me and trust me with that kind of stuff, knowing that it’s not going to go anywhere. And then I’m helping someone in that way.”
Despite the shiny façade of toys and accessories, Cropley is selling more than just eroticism. From keeping a diverse, inclusive, and ever-changing inventory, to making sure all of her products are body-safe, she’s cultivating a safe space for people to explore their sexuality.
“Adding spice to relationships is healthy and exploring your body is healthy, and I try to make it a very welcoming environment,” she says. “There’s a lot of reasons why a store like this should exist and not have the taboo.”
Taboos aside, there is an important chapter in the story of her store’s seemingly overnight success: Cropley has been quietly building her business for the past three years. She studied her market and identified a niche. Nothing about Pleasure All Mine — except for the pandemic — is an accident. Starting off with an online site, Cropley began throwing ‘pleasure parties’ at people’s homes, building her reputation and eventually hosting booths at local events. It was on a whim that she came to look at the empty space that would eventually house her business.
” I came in, I said, I want this and pretty much signed the contract there,” says Cropley.
Despite a seemingly unwavering resolve, Cropley is candid that owning an adult boutique was never her dream. Instead, the idea came to her while watching the 2015 erotic drama 50 Shades of Gray. It was then that she realized Sitka didn’t have a sex shop.
” I was working over at SAFV the women’s shelter. And I told all the advocates, I was like, ‘I’m gonna open a sex shop.’ And some of them chuckle, but they’re like, ‘If anyone’s going to do it, it’s going to be you,'” she says.
The pandemic is easing in Sitka now. And hopefully, with the worst behind her, Cropley’s business will grow even more, and the sales — and the pleasure — will be all hers.
Tash Kimmell is a Report for America corps member.