Taboo Celebrates Multiple Milestones
You can’t put ‘naked’ on a marquee in Henrico County. This is one of the many lessons learned by Alison Barber, the Owner and President of Taboo Inc..”Someone asked us to take down a banner of me holding a whip, and I respectfully declined,” said Barber on some of the uproar she’s heard from the public, but she never let those obstacles get her down. The short, bouncy brunette smiles as much as she sells sex toys.
Taboo has reached a few benchmarks this year – in addition to celebrating their 10-year-anniversary, the nationally recognized adult store is poised to open their second location by the February 2013. It hasn’t been easy – zoning issues and complex city ordinances have made speed bumps along the way, but Barber has stuck to her guns and her hard work has paid off.
Barber took over Taboo back in 2002. She was a second year fashion marketing major at VCU, and she got a part-time job at Taboo when it sold ‘up-scale’ lingerie. The stock at the time consisted of what barber called ‘old lady’ night wear and a few VHS tapes. Before long, the then-owner decided she no longer wanted to own an adult store and Barber took over. At 23, Barber put on a half-smile and said “I’ll give selling dildos a try.” She stayed in school and finished her degree, all the while working to expand and create something she could be really proud of.
“It’s a modern-day adult store – what an adult store should be.” Said Barber, “Friendly to women, men couples. As opposed to the original ‘adult store’ with seedy walls and a greasy old man smoking cigarettes.” She believes simple small business principals have been why the store continues to succeed. “love what you’re selling, be interested in it, and listen to your customers… People appreciate the personal attention.”
The complex nature of adult-store ownership has put Barber in some weird situations. Adult stores are classified as strip clubs, not retail, which means she must apply for a $100 permit every year. Additionally, her finger prints, and a current photo of herself are kept on file. “I’m clearly a criminal because I sell dildos,” said Barber.
Henrico put a stop on any new adult stores or strip clubs being built. This has limited competition for Baber, but it has made growth a challenged. She spent 7 years looking for a new location, but zoning requirements made it impossible. “These places they want you to find don’t exists,” said Barber, “so the only way to do it was to buy out another adult business.”
That’s when Barber approached the owners of Broadway Books on Midlothian Turnpike. Barber had the building gutted, and was prepared to open a two story adult super store, but the city still put road blocks in the way. After much negotiation, and back and forth, Barber hopes to have the second location open in time for Valentines day.
Barber describes herself as sexually liberated, or sex-positive, and she sees her work with Taboo as helping support a healthy lifestyle. “I think sex is important – being honest with yourself and your partner is important. Experimenting with your partner, and never being afraid to explore your sexuality. We put it a little more out in the open, and I want Taboo to be the nice and warm industry that other retail stores can be, just a little different.”
And the differences are easy to notice. The selection of toys, gadgets, and gear is massive. Barber prides herself on the selection available, and they are willing to do custom orders upon request. With the promise of a new location, that selection should get even better.
The struggles of working with the counties and staying afloat in a challenging economy have made things interesting for Barber, but her positive attitude and love of her work have kept her strong through the toughest times. “I’m super excited to have made it 10 years, and have grown this much – we improve so much every day, and I love my business, and the adult industry – it’s all my baby… and I’m grateful the people in Richmond have supported us so that we can improve.”
Check out Taboo online or in person:
6021 West Broad St.
MON – THURS : 10am – 10pm
FRI – SAT : 10am – 11pm
SUN : 12pm – 8pm
“People were eager to talk and either didn’t seem to mind or realize that I was in drag,”August 24, 2016
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