It’s just before midnight on a Friday in downtown Leesburg, and a young couple just stumbled out of the biker bar in this historic Virginia town, past the American flags, quaint lamposts and cascading petunia pots and ducked into an alley, furiously making out.
A guy in a backwards ballcap staggered toward some port-a-potties, then whizzed on a wall just outside them.
But here’s what’s freaking out the Leesburg Town Council of late: Le Tache, a lingerie and sex toy shop that opened up across the street from the courthouse five years ago. Its very presence, Leesburg’s leaders have suddenly decided, is debasing the good people of this 250-year-old city.
Let’s check it out. Because at 11:30 p.m. on a Friday is when a sin shop should be at its most depraved, right?
So I walk past the rustic Americana biker bar, stroll past the window mannequins modeling corsets and lace undies – outfits which cover more of those plastic bodies than what plenty of women wear to the pool – and I see it.
The clerk is knitting.
“Hello,” she says, cheerfully.
I described the debauchery I saw drifting out of the bar next door, and nope, none of those people were her customers. It had been busy earlier, but mostly older couples who came in after dinner.
Friday nights aren’t their busiest times, says the clerk, who doesn’t want to give her name.
“Monday mornings. Whoa,” she said. “Sometimes, people are waiting outside before we open at 10 a.m.”
I browse the store. The main part is fancy lingerie, nothing too different from what you’d see at a Victoria’s Secret at nearly every mall in America.
The curtained-off sex toy part is certainly more graphic. But it’s also the area where children aren’t allowed, and it can’t be seen from the street.
The helpful clerk admitted she often feels like a therapist and is stunned with the questions, myths and misperceptions that customers – often middle-aged couples – have when they get to this part of the shop.
She answers all their questions patiently. And their gratitude (they often return to update her on how things went ) tells her she’s doing some valuable work in her community.
She took me on a tour of her best-sellers. One is a $350 vibrator. And no, for that price, it doesn’t also make breakfast for you in the morning. But it does look like something sleek and right out of Apple’s design shop. She explains the movement and battery life that account for the price. Oh.
She’s sold out of the real hit – a $250 wearable sex toy that can be buzzed remotely with an app. It’s really popular among Northern Virginia’s power couples, who are often separated by travel, she says. Pleasure is only an app away.
Or there’s the tiny device that’s a $150 FitBit for your lady nether-regions, reminding you to do your Kegel exercises with a buzz and tracking your progress on an app.
So this is apparently what’s prompted letters to the Leesburg Town Council and spurred visits from town officials.
“Actually, the police officer visit was because of a hookah,” says store owner Bo Kenney.
A grandma was walking down the street and her grandson saw a hookah in the store window display. Grandma reported to police that there was a sex toy. Right in plain sight, in the window, Kenney said.
So they removed it, and laughed at what, exactly, grandma envisioned are the sex acts performed with the hookah.
The store is among the 12 shops that Kenney and his wife own. Le Tache bills itself on its website as “Northern Virginia’s #1 lingerie and couples boutique since 1988. Over 1 million toys for lovers sold! We offer sexy lingerie, toys for lovers, aphrodisiacs, lubricants, gifts and more.”
“We have nothing but good customers in Leesburg,” Kenney said. “Nothing about the town or the people has been negative.”
Members of the town council told Leesburg Today that they’ve been hit with emails from residents unhappy with having to pass the store windows and explain them to their children.
“Why do we have to have such unchaste and disgusting displays of women in a beautiful, old town as Leesburg?” Mary L. Chaney wrote to the council. “Please do something to get rid of this store as soon as possible. I wonder what else goes on in this building!”
Um, I checked it out for you, Mary. Knitting. Knitting happens in that building.
Less than a mile from the pink ruffles and push-up bras is a gun shop, with window displays of rifle butts and Sig Sauer and Glock stickers. The gun shop is wedged between a soccer association headquarters and a family-style Italian restaurant. We haven’t seen the town council flooded with complaints about this juxtaposition.
But so far this year, 2,478 children have been killed by gunfire, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
As far as I can tell – but maybe I’m just not finding these stats in the federal reports – zero kids have been killed by boobs. Or pink bustiers.
Leesburg’s attorney has told the letter writers and town leaders that they can’t do anything about the lingerie store. Everything being sold is perfectly legal, even if the displays offend some or objectify women.
(Hey, Le Tache, how about some men in the window?)
Bottom line: the naughty wares in Leesburg aren’t going anywhere unless people stop buying them. As the spending habits of the good people of Leesburg demonstrate, Sunday morning prudishness is a lot less powerful than Monday morning sex toy shopping.