Sun, Jan 02, 2011 - Page 12 News List

Alabama adult drive-through
store offers privacy

Sherri Williams runs what she calls an “upscale” adult store, and using an old bank building with a drive-thru window once run by bank tellers that has manicured shrubs outside doesn’t hurt the image

By Jay Reeves  /  AP, HUNTSVILLE, Alabama

Gabrielle Silva takes down a customer’s order from the drive-through window, stuffs a bag full of products and passes it outside to the couple waiting in a car.

“Thanks, and I put some free condoms in there, too!” Silva chirps.

In this technology-savvy north Alabama city, visitors won’t just find burgers and prescriptions at the drive-thru window.

A “romance” store called Pleasures offers a convenience that appears to be the only one of its kind in the country: a drive-thru with adult novelties for sale. Business is brisk so far, with cars sometimes lining up three deep for vibrators, lubricants, lingerie and other risque items.

“It’s been doing well, and really well on nights when it’s cold or rainy,” employee Toni Kennedy said. “Discretion and the ease of it are big, and convenience. We’re Americans. We like everything convenient.”

Even sex toys, as much as elected officials in Alabama have tried to prevent them from being sold in the conservative, Bible Belt state.

Pleasures is owned by Florida businesswoman Sherri Williams, who fought the state for almost a decade over what’s considered by free-speech advocates to be one of the US’ toughest anti-obscenity laws. Among other things, the 1998 law banned the sale of products intended for sexual stimulation.

With two sex-toy stores in Alabama’s Tennessee Valley, Williams sued to overturn the law with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. She won initially when a federal judge ruled in 1999 there was no rational basis for the law. But the state appealed and Williams lost, allowing the law to remain on the books even though it wasn’t enforced during the litigation.

The US Supreme Court refused to hear the case in 2007, ending Williams’ challenge. Distribution of sex toys is a misdemeanor on the first offense with a maximum penalty of a US$10,000 fine and one year in jail, although the law doesn’t ban possession.

However, the law has a loophole that allows for the sale of sex toys that are needed for unspecified “medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial, or law enforcement” purposes, and Williams jumped through it. Customers buying toys — items that can be used for sexual stimulation — fill out an anonymous form with 10 questions including whether they or a partner have difficulty with sexual fulfillment.

In November, she held the grand opening for an expanded Pleasures store in an old bank building at a busy intersection. Williams first opened in the Tennessee Valley in 1993; this is her second expansion, and she has a smaller store in nearby Decatur.

It seemed like a waste not to use the old drive-thru window once run by bank tellers, so Silva and her co-workers now sell all sorts of adult products from the side of the building. Just like at a fast-food restaurant, there’s a brightly lit sign outside with products and prices — herbal “enhancement pills” are US$8 per dose.

Williams bills her drive-thru as the country’s first offering adult novelties for sale.

At Pleasures, the woman in one car wanted a rubber toy that spins and pulses. A couple in another vehicle stopped by for free condoms, which are advertised on a sign visible from University Drive, a main drag through town.

A few meters away from Pleasures, on the other side of a curb, workers at a neighboring McDonald’s restaurant dish out fries and burgers.

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