Rachel Venning (L) and Claire Cavanah (R).
The news broke yesterday that Babeland, the online/brick-and-mortar sex toy shop with locations in Seattle and New York City, has been sold to San Francisco's Good Vibrations. Babeland—originally Toys In Babeland—was founded in Seattle by business-not-life-partners Rachel Venning and Claire Cavanah in 1993. Rachel had just graduated from the University of Washington's MBA program, Claire was working in publishing in Seattle, both were lesbians active in the women's movement.
They opened their first store on Pike Street, not far from the Stranger's offices, and it was an instant hit with people who wanted sex toys but didn't want to slink into a dark and dingy porn store with a damp and smelly video arcade/public sex environment at the back. Christine Wenc, one of the Stranger's first editors, reviewed the store when it first opened:
The place was tastefully decorated and roomy, the staff was friendly, helpful, and very knowledgeable. Everywhere were dildos of all shapes and sizes and textures (one very funny one shaped like an ear of corn); dildo harnesses; all kinds of vibrators; butt plugs; little strings of beads to put up your butt and pull out again; bottles of lube; lots of books. I was entranced by all of the nifty gadgets, many of which I'd seen in the Good Vibrations catalogue before. And there was also a little room in the back with a mirror and a comfy chair for testing the products. Everything was laid out for inspection, with power source available if necessary, so you'd know exactly what you were getting. It was great fun.
Babeland was a revolution when it opened and quickly became one of Seattle's sex-positive institutions, along with things like the Center for Sex Positive Culture, SEAF, HUMP!, pride, naked cyclists at the Fremont solstice parade, and the late, great, and much-missed bondage/leather shop SIN, C-SPACE, and the Lusty Lady. So I was delighted to learn, when I spoke to Rachel and Claire by phone and via text yesterday, that Babeland isn't going anywhere. We also talked about why they're selling, their best and worst customers, and what the future holds for them. After the jump...
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