The Rural Adult Bookshop

In That Adult Bookstore Just Outside Town Declan Heyse really nails the atmosphere of the adult bookstores and film/video peepstores that got relegated to rural byways via commercial urban zoning laws in the early 1980s:

First, you drove past the mills and then through the woods on that winding county road, which was of course bumpy because the county took care of it. Next, you turned onto that numbered state route, which was in an even worse repair because the state took care of it. Dodge the potholes for a few minutes, though, and there it was. A building like some cross between a house and a shack and a bar you wouldn’t go in even with all of your friends at your back, and sitting all by its lonesome in the center of a gravel parking lot/moat of potential obscenity lawsuits and rebukes of eternal damnation.

Like I mentioned, this was the early 1980s. The very early 1980s. There were no bright and cheerful Pleasure Chests back then, no friendly and welcoming Good Vibrations. You went through that front door with a rusty spring snapping it back shut (loudly) like something on your Grandpa’s work shed, and you saw that crappy fake-wood paneling your friend’s scary dad had put up in his “rec room,” and you spotted that cashier who reminded you there were parts of Pennsylvania even more rural than where you lived, and you started to rethink the Adult Bookstore.

I came along a little later and had a little less freedom than Declan; although I often saw the kind of places he describes and once or twice experienced the ambience he describes so well, it wasn’t until 1991 that I walked alone into a really fine San Francisco magazine shop where I could have this experience:

Then I saw the wall of those other things.

An entire fucking wall.

Mistresses. Dominatrices. Men on their knees and in collars. Women bound and gagged. Slaves abused and dominated. Leather. Boots. Leather boots. One cover photo after another, and only partially obscured by the metal magazine holders themselves.

It was like the heavens parted, and the sun shone down on the promised land.

By this point in my life, I already knew that I wasn’t “the norm” sexually. And I was at least aware of most of what I would eventually make my peace with as “kinks,” even if I still fought the idea they were somehow actually “perversions.” And while I knew there were others like me, it had always felt like we were very few and very far between. So few and far between, in fact, that in those pre-Internet days, we would probably never meet as friends who could tell each other we each weren’t as weird as we thought, and that I would probably never find one of the exceedingly rare women who might actually be into this. We were needles in an America-wide haystack. But the wall changed all that.

Because it was an entire fucking wall.

The creepy cashier pretending not to be watching me over top of that swinger’s paper no longer creeped me out after that. Because even at that age, I knew enough about writing and publishing to know that nobody published an entire fucking wall of these magazines without a market. And even if that market were small by mainstream standards, it was a lot bigger than I’d been imagining up to that point. I felt a part of something larger, standing there, even if I didn’t know exactly what that might be. But it didn’t matter. Because while I still might be just as alone in these, ah, “proclivities” in my hometown as I’d thought, I wasn’t quite as alone in them overall as I’d been before I walked through that ratty door with its rusty spring.

I bought a Swedish nudes magazine to show my friends, but I also bought three BDSM magazines that day…

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4 comments on “The Rural Adult Bookshop”:

Den commented on July 13th, 2017 at 1:41 pm:

I came along before that – mid-70s. My dirty book store was a cinder block building with no windows, and one entrance on the side of the building not visible from the road. There were no film loop machines in it (they came later), and row upon row of dirty magazines, including a row of the classic bondage magazines – HOM were my favorites. They had black and white pictures with one or two color pictures, and a silly story maybe. The gems had an illustration, or illustrated story, by Bishop.

Ah yes … the good old days … they stunk!

How much better to sit in my recliner, laptop on my lap, connected to the Internet through the home wifi network, and able to download the complete works of Bishop, and HD color hour long videos from Infernal Restraints, any time I want to, and all for free.

But seriously, the extra effort you had to make to go to an obvious adult book store to find maybe one bondage magazine did make it a lot more exciting than it is today when it seems practically normal.

Den commented on July 13th, 2017 at 1:48 pm:

Oh, and I forgot one other thing. The guy code-of-contact. If you saw someone you knew there, you never, ever, make any sign of recognitions … not even eye contact. I never knew this to be violated.

Declan Heyse commented on July 14th, 2017 at 9:42 am:

Glad the post resonated with you!

I really need to get back there someday, and see if the place is still around.

Den commented on July 19th, 2017 at 11:08 pm:

You prodded me (metaphorically). I used Google Street to reach across three time zones, and the place is still there, and still a dirty book store, though now it has some trendy adult bookstore name. But the heritage is clear. It’s still a cinder block building with no windows and one door on the side away from the road. Another win for modern technology.

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