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Q&A: Jessica 'VonDyke,' On Building A Sex Shop In H Street Corridor

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/19/2012 4:26 pm

The Garden
Jessica "VonDyke"

WASHINGTON -- Jessica hasn't even shared her last name.

But when the 33-year-old walks through the door in fishnet tights, bright red lipstick, and carrying a helmet with zebra fur across the top, she becomes instantly recognizable. How else would you expect a woman with a dream to open an educational sex toy shop to look?

It turns out that Jessica goes by "VonDyke," which is "spelled like sounds," she says. She can't be found on the Internet, though, as VonDyke is her "professional" name.

And if everything goes according to plan, Jessica wants to open and operate a sex shop called "The Garden" in the H Street corridor in northeast D.C.

For now, she lives in southeast D.C. and works as a design consultant in the paint design section of a hardware store. Though it sounds comparatively benign to the sex industry, Jessica professes to love it all; mixing the paint, designing in-store for customers, and going to homes to do design work.

Everything she does, Jessica explains, stems from a love of explaining and passion for customer service. "It’s not any different to me because it’s sex."

THe Huffington Post: How long have you been in D.C.?

VonDyke: Well, I grew up in the area and I actually moved into D.C. 10 years ago and I bought a house [laughs] -- I'm official.

HuffPost: How did you get interested in this field?

VonDyke: When I was about 23 I got really into erotic art and wanted to open an erotic art museum in D.C. with a community center component. And well, at 23, I found myself not at all serious about the world or my future or really much of anything so I decided to wait until I was an "adult" to reconsider. The theme of sexual education has woven through my life since [that original idea] but it wasn't until later I started scheming.

HuffPost: What was your first experience in a sex shop like?

VonDyke: Pretty terrible actually. I was 19, in Daytona Beach, Florida, working for the summer. I went in with a friend looking for a vibrator. I mean, "For a friend, of course! As a joke!" *cough cough*

I was aghast at all the fake vaginas, cheap-looking clothes and giant c**ks -- which was not a word I used then -- all over the place. The clerk could not have been less interested in me, what I was buying or why I was buying it. It was several years before I could think of a sex shop as anything other than the place to go for some laughs or gag gifts.

HuffPost: Are most sex shops like that?

VonDyke: In my experience with the average toy store, they’re not necessarily discrete, they’re disinterested. So it’s not that they’re not telling your secrets, it’s that they don’t know because they don’t care. They’re just there to sell you the stuff they’re selling. You know, I actually want you to have a good time. I am invested in your enjoyment. And I feel that way about everything I do. I do the same thing at my other store. I really want to have a nice house and enjoy the space that you are inhabiting. So I’m going to take my time and give you the right products and I feel the same way about this... it’s not any different to me because it’s sex.

HuffPost: Does that mean you have found a need for what you're doing in D.C.?

VonDyke: Yes, absolutely, big-time.

HuffPost: Why?

VonDyke: The interesting thing about D.C. and sex is that everybody is very buttoned up, well, not everybody. I guess I don’t want to make that type of blanket statement, but a lot of people here are very buttoned up or they work for the government so they can’t talk about what they do in their personal time. But the sex-positive and kink-aware community in D.C. is much larger than I think people realize. That is not to expose anybody, just to say that I think there is a community here that is looking for what I’m doing and there’s more than I think people are aware.

If you think about it on a big scale, there really isn't sufficient sex education in this country and that's not a secret, everyone knows that. So we grow up into adulthood not really understanding sex and having this mystique and this stigma around it. I think separately, there is a need for more sex education. To me, I'm filling a gap for adults who have not had that experience or who are interested in expanding their horizons and their options safely.

HuffPost: So how does what you're doing compare with the existing sex shops in D.C?

VonDyke: Uh huh. Well, I don't want to say anything negative about the places here because I think they're filling a need. But what I'm doing that's different is I'm focusing on education and I'm focusing on body-positive, sex-positive approach to pleasure.

HuffPost: It's totally fair not to speak against specific shops but can you explain to me what it is that you DON'T want to do?

VonDyke: I am not going to have any red lights. I am not going to sell kitsch. I am not going to cater to batchelorette parties. I'm not going to sell things just because they're cheap and accessible. It's really important to me to have things that are safe and not harmful for your body. A lot of thing that are out there are not very good to put in or on yourself. I mean, they're not going to kill you.

HuffPost: How do you incorporate the education part?

VonDyke: It's going to be at least 60 percent of what I do. I'm going to have a whole room, or at least one space within the store devoted to education. Right now, my hope is to have a class every night that I'm open.

HuffPost: What would be the most important class?

VonDyke: Wow. I don't know, that's a big question because I think it's different for everybody. Ultimately what I want everyone to get out of the classes […] is what they're doing is healthy. And it's safe and it's OK ... and it's OK to feel the feeling that you're feeling. That could be different things for different people. Some people really need to have a class on how to have an orgasm -- because they've never done it, you know? Some people want to have a class on erotic spanking because that's how they get off but they don't really know how and I think for different people I would have a different answer.

HuffPost: So how far along are you in the process of creating a storefront?

VonDyke: I'm doing it purely community-investment-based and so I actually I have [meetings] with some investors [this month]. As soon as I have the money together, I'm ready to go. I have a space that I'm looking at, though it all depends on whether or not I get the money ready to go and if it's still available. If I get that space I could be open mid-May or June.

HuffPost: Why are you looking for community investors?

VonDyke: I want people to feel like they are a part of what is happening. I'm not doing it as any sort of partnership but I want people to feel they are invested in this shop coming to D.C.. Also I would much rather my friends and the people who care about what I'm doing make money [off of this project] than the bank.

HuffPost: Are there neighborhoods you would've considered other than H Street for this?

VonDyke: Nope. I think that this neighborhood is alternative enough and young enough and open-minded enough to do it. I also think this neighborhood needs more retail. And I think the people who come to this neighborhood from the outside are coming to this neighborhood for things like Red Palace with its burlesque shows or they’re coming to Rock N Roll Hotel ... things that are already outside of the box so why not stop at my store on the way? [laughs]

HuffPost: Have you gotten any negative response from the community?

VonDyke: Have you read through the Frozen Tropics response? That's most of the negative response I've gotten; stuff like "Who cares, it's just a pole in a hole?" Nobody that I've talked to personally has been against it. You know, I told my mom. She was like "Oh… OK… Neat..." ...

So people [...] who are open-minded enough to think about sex as more than just something than the red-light district are pretty open to what's happening. ... Everyone I'm talking to is 100 percent behind it; they want the retail, they want the queer, they want the alternative. So the business neighborhood here, anyway, is 100 percent behind me from those I've talked to.

HuffPost: Do you think that has anything to do your personality?

VonDyke: I’ve always, my whole life, been the person that people disclose to. So it just made sense. [laughs] Yeah. So that’s cool. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I love it. And I don’t tell people’s secrets. You don’t know the person that told me they really really love the butt plug they bought from me but I’m certainly not going to talk about it because that is that person’s privacy.

Also on HuffPost: Voices From H Street

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