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Sex Sells

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On my way to meet Tool Shed proprietor, Eilis O’Herlihy at the Riverwest Co-op Cafe, I tried to imagine what the owner of an erotic boutique might look like — an Annie Sprinkle type or maybe more of the Betty Paige ilk? Or maybe someone wearing a trench coat and fedora? When I walked into the tiny cafe, I found a youngish woman wearing a secondhand sweater and a pair of green suede boots I coveted at first sight. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she wore no makeup. Eilis (pronounced ay-lish) ordered nothing, perhaps a vestige of the frugality she has practiced for years while saving up her money to start The Tool Shed, located a couple doors down from Fuel. “Everywhere else I’ve spent time has had a sex shop for women,” she said. “I just wanted to make a lovely store with lots of pretty stuff.” She and her business partner Molly Cassidy used all of their savings to open the store in Riverwest. “This is where we live,” she explained. “We wanted to do it where we knew every business owner on the street. We can collaborate with and support each other.” Eilis and Molly view The Tool Shed as a crossover business, which Eilis feels is sorely lacking in Milwaukee — “Everyone is so separate here.” It is owned and operated by women and appeals to both sexes. Even though most of their clients are female, they have some products that are exclusively for men. The majority of their patrons consist of Riverwesters, but some have ventured in from other parts of the city. They hope to attract out-of-towners as well. The Tool Shed also serves as a safe space, where people can come in and feel comfortable. The storefront’s windows are covered, so customers do not feel like they are being watched. “It’s really satisfying seeing someone buy their first vibrator, asking questions, feeling comfortable and not being embarrassed,” Eilis stated. The Tool Shed features a large variety of toys and books, such as erotica and various how-to manuals. “We even have more than one kind of lube,” she described. “Most adult video or book stores only have a couple of vibrators in the display case. They don’t have what we have. We will be getting in lots of new stuff over the next couple of months — we want to keep changing our stock constantly. That’s why we keep it small.” Eilis also feels that the Tool Shed employs a more “witty” method of marketing erotic products. “Sex and sex toys are a very healthy and basic part of life. They can also be funny, and it’s okay to allow that,” she said. They have received an overwhelmingly positive response from people. “At first, some people were unsure of what to expect, but they have said that it is a lovely and elegant addition to the Center Street business district,” Eilis said. “Only a couple people have wandered in thinking it was a tool store.” Don’t get them wrong — they are both still keeping their day jobs for the time being, at least until things get off the ground. Molly manages Lava Java Cafe and Eilis bartends at Onopa Brewery three or four nights a week. “Our main obstacle is getting everything that everyone wants and keeping stuff rotating,” Eilis explained. Items on their wish list include a larger selection of books, toys and handmade crafts. They would also like to offer a small assortment of “tasteful and beautiful videos.” Within the next couple of months, they will carry guides for finding the best erotic videos, which can be specially ordered. The Tool Shed also has a nurse that is affiliated with the store. “Hopefully she can keep some regular hours at the shop and we can include a link for her on our forthcoming website,” Eilis explained. The Tool Shed’s grand opening party in February featured product demonstrations (no, not like that, you sicko) and customized airbrushed underwear, which, if successful, might become a regular feature of the store. The Tool Shed is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 7 pm and on Sunday from noon to 5 pm. It is located at 804 E. Center St. between Fratney and Bremen. For more information, contact Molly and Eilis at , or call 562-9338.
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