Residents concerned about adult toy, retail store in Madison neighborhood

MADISON, Wis.– It’s a new business in Madison that has polarized the surrounding community – Romantix.

After opening at the busy intersection of Maple Grove Dr. and McKee Road last Friday, some said it should be somewhere else where kids can’t see it, while others said it allows the community to start having conversations about sexuality we may find tough.  

“We’re America’s premiere romance retailer,” said Joshua Porter, Vice President of Operations for Romantix. “This is our 8th store we’re opening up this year and by far in a way it was our best opening weekend.”  

But the chain’s choice to open in the old Family Video building rubbed some nearby residents the wrong way.  

“There’s a daycare center close to it, there’s a high-volume gas station in the area where a lot of people from the neighborhood visit,” said Kenneth Brown.  

Brown is the President of the Stone Meadows Neighborhood Association (SMNA). At the beginning of the month, he joined other residents to voice their concerns to Porter and city officials at a virtual town hall.  

“The biggest thing is the visual impact to anybody that’s walking along in the area, the younger people, the school that’s stopping through there,” he said.  

After hearing those concerns, Porter said Romantix is working to be good neighbors. Next week, they will be “putting 80% tint on the windows, which will make it very difficult to see inside.”  

The town hall was held after the store was given the go-ahead by the city to operate as a retail space.

“At the time we were too close to opening to make any drastic changes,” Porter said.  

According to City zoning ordinances, Romantix didn’t need to apply for an adult entertainment license because “more than ten percent of the available floor, wall and display space was not dedicated to the sale, rental or loan of “any pictures, photographs, drawings, motion picture films or similar visual representations or images…relating to specified sexual activities or specified anatomical areas.”

“The products that we’re carrying, a few of them have nudity on the packaging and we did include those in our percentage count,” Porter said, “but it’s far lower than the 10% number that would require us to have an adult license.”  

Adult entertainment or not, Brown said the community should’ve been asked whether or not they wanted a sex toy store in their neighborhood. 

“It would have been nice that before this approval had been sent through if the residents and the people in the area would’ve had a little more input as to how the law was being enforced at this location,” Brown said.   

But a store is a store, Porter says.

“People have come in on a daily basis to our stores to pick up daily needs,” he said.  “Just because it’s something that you may not personally enjoy or something you may not be interested in, doesn’t mean the person in the house next door to you is not.”

‘This is a great opportunity for us to talk about, ‘why are we so uncomfortable?’ 

According to Brown, exposing children to the store’s contents was at the heart of their complaints.

“Right now, the feedback from people has been that they do not like at night walking by there with their children,” he said  

But Ellen Barnard sees it presenting “a great opportunity for us to talk about, ‘why are we so uncomfortable?’ What are we afraid of and how do we manage that without expecting somebody else to manage it for us?”  

Barnard owns A Woman’s Touch, what she calls a feminist sex shop.

“Our focus really is on education, and carefully chosen and carefully curated information and products to help people improve their sexual health and wellness,” she said. 

A social worker herself, she understood people not being comfortable with their kids asking questions like “mom, what’s Romantix, what do they have inside?” 

“I can hope that the answer from mom will be, ‘that’s a place where adults find things to make their relationships stronger and better,” she said.  

A conversation that may not be easy.

“Recognize it’s going to be uncomfortable, right? you don’t get taught how to talk about it…Be willing to be a little giggly, blush a lot. Blushing is fine,” she said.  

Brown said this has come up in the discussion about the neighborhood’s response to Romantix. “Again like everything else there’s a time and place — and we felt that this was not a good place to have this conversation.” 

“We obviously know that these things exist in the world and we’re not shielding our kids from all of that. But it’s just not something that we would look to put in a completely residential neighborhood,” Brown said.  

‘Give us a chance, give us some time’ 

Porter maintains that he hasn’t faced a neighborhood response to Ronantix like this one.

“It was our 8th store that we’re opening this year and it was the first one that we had any real backlash,” he said.  

So, he asks the community for patience. “Give us a chance, give us some time.” 

He recalled how, after the town hall meeting, he gave residents his email address to hear any more feedback.  

“Someone came, wrote back to me, and said ‘after entering the store it’s not nearly what I expected, it’s not what I thought it was going to be. I’m still not a patron of that type of business but I’m far more comfortable with it than I was originally’,” Porter said.  

For now, the store is there to stay, which Brown said residents know.

“We weren’t against the business itself, it’s just the location of it.”