How a mother-daughter duo opened the sensuality shop Oh My!

  • Oh My! Sensuality Shop, 122 Main Street, Northampton. Photographed Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Oh My! Sensuality Shop, 122 Main Street, Northampton. Photographed Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 2/28/2020 3:09:04 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece grew out of a class at Smith College, “Writing about Women and Gender,” taught by the journalist and author Susan Faludi.

Beth Meyers, owner of Oh My! Sensuality Shop

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

This is a story that’s been told many times. My mother, Carol Gesell, was a Frances Perkins [a student of nontraditional age at Mount Holyoke], and she graduated in her 50s with a degree in theater and women’s studies — that was in the ’90s. She went to Boston to try and find work in the theater, and to earn money while trying to get involved in that, for a friend-of-a-friend, she started working in a sex store there.

Once she started doing it, she just fell in love with it and really never did anything else. So she worked there, and never got any theater work. She was married, and her husband lived here, so she moved back. There was a store that preceded us here (Intimacies, on Center Street) — she worked there. Then she got divorced and moved to Providence and worked in a toy store there. Then the toy store here closed, so I said, “Come back home, and we’ll open our own store.” And that’s how we were born! (The store, now at 122 Main St., first opened at the Maplewood Shops in 2003, before relocating in 2009.)

She’s actually retired now, but it was pretty good, you know, we knew each other’s boundaries. We knew how to talk to each other. It was better in a lot of ways because there’s a lot of things that I don’t like to do that she used to do. For instance, before she retired, you would have been talking to her. Now, I get nervous about interviews, and I’ve been slowly working around that. And advertising, that kind of stuff. I like to do the ordering. She’s just a totally different personality.

I would say [working with my mother] was both more pleasurable and more complicated. Because there is a dynamic, and I did want to be in charge of certain things. I did have to say “no” sometimes because I was the one who was more in charge of the finances. But at the same time, there’s a certain amount of ease. Arguments could be easier or harder, depending on the days and the hormones. Still two hormonal people. (Laughs.)

Now there’s five of us, and most people don’t work much. I work four days a week, one person works three, and three people work two. Saturday’s my Monday, that’s usually a busy day. I work and get a ballpark of what’s going on in the store. Sunday I start writing up my orders, Monday I place them, Tuesday’s usually a quiet day, taking care of whatever’s left for the week. And then I’m off for three days. I like working on the weekends, for sure. I like to be here because it’s busier. I’m an avid thrifter — Salvation Army’s family value day is Wednesday, so I have to have Wednesdays off. 

[Before starting Oh My!] I was working in a second-hand clothing store; I was working at Roz’s Place down the street. I was there for 15 years. I’ve only had four jobs. This is my town. I graduated from Northampton High School, and I’m from this area. I mean I’m 50, and I’ve never lived anywhere else. My family is here. My mom, my dad, my brothers, my nieces, my cousins, all of my best friends live here … so I’d probably stay here. It’s boring, I know.

For the store I want to run, I need college students. I think that college — that age and that energy, all the political stuff in their heads and the excitement — it’s something that works well with our environment. And I thrive on it. I like to learn, I like to keep up with things. 

You know who else we’re getting a lot more of now? Seniors. It’s not unusual because people are healthier longer past menopause, so we’re dealing with people wanting to have sex past menopause.

I just think people are younger longer, you know? “60 is the new 40,” or whatever they say. I think we’re healthier longer, and so even after divorces, people are dating. They’re starting to date people in their 60s or 70s. I’ve even had people in their 80s starting to date. I think there’s less stigma around it. When I was a kid, when I thought of my grandmother … she wouldn’t be having sex, not my grandma. She was old school. Her husband died, and that was it. I think people aren’t living that life anymore. They’re not shutting off.

When we first started, there were phthalates in most of the toys. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, it’s a consonant-heavy word: P-T-H-A-L-A-T-E. And it’s an ingredient that was — still is, unfortunately — put into hard plastic to make it soft. And it is toxic. You can smell it, and it melts, and it burns people. The industry has definitely shifted to be mostly silicon or hard plastic. No toxic toys at Oh My!, certainly. 

Also, toys used to be packaged with naked women on them. They used to always have naked women or lingerie-clad women on the packaging, which is one of the bigger reasons that we started having stuff out of the package. The toys used to also be very much penis-shaped, and um ... large. Toys are beautiful now; there’s no reason for them not to be. They’re elegant — I mean, some of them are still penis-shaped — but if you just look around, you’ll see, they’re pretty! It’s a little bit of a joke around here that I really like pretty sexy toys. We might have prettier toys than the average store. The design has become a lot more focused on what people might actually be interested in as opposed to what [the designers] thought people would be interested in.

It’s different every day. It’s not your regular retail environment. I’m going to have an intimate conversation with a lot of people every day. You never know what it’s going to be about. You do get a sense of satisfaction, like, you are often helping people with really personal problems that they don’t even talk to their friends about. It’s having an impact on people’s lives in a way that I never imagined. It’s about pleasure and joy, you know, I’m selling sex toys! And it’s a part of most people’s lives — certainly not everybody’s — but it’s fun. And all good customers! Very rarely are you cranky in the sex toy store.

 




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