As you walk through the pink saloon-style doors with “And things that buzz in the night” written overhead, you immediately find a display of colorful things that buzz in the night, unpackaged for you to try, and a wall of pleasure products, ranging from lube to vibrators to everything in between.
“Unless I’m missing something, I am Vermont’s first women-centric sex positive store,” Kris Lawson, the owner of Curve Appeal, a romance boutique on Main Street that opened this past July. “Every other store I’ve been to in the state doesn’t do any of this at all.”
Lawson began her career 10 years ago after seeing Katie Couric attend a party on the Today Show.
“I almost dropped my child. I just thought, ‘wow, Katie Couric. If she can do this, I can totally do this,’” Lawson said.
She hit the ground running two weeks later, travelling across the region for pleasure parties, eventually growing to a team of 110 trained party consultants. As she continued to host parties, she built up a loyal customer base, many of whom recommended she open a store so they could bring their friends or their partners. When a vacancy opened up in downtown Middlebury, her neighbors, the owners of Frog Alley Tattoo, called her and told her they were looking for someone to move in next door quickly. Lawson took the plunge.
“It wasn’t a big planned out thing. It was in the back of my mind and all the sudden, it just hit,” she said.
Lawson cashed in her 401k, started the build out and decorating and bought all the products before opening this summer. She styled her shop after other boutiques, aiming to make a store where people, particularly women of all sexualities, felt comfortable. In that vein, she strays from the graphic package and porn star brands that so often dominate sex shops.
“I want something where women could come in,” she said. “I didn’t want to have names like ‘the bend-me-over buttplug.’ One of the men who came back here said, ‘this ain’t no sex boutique’, and I said ‘thank you very much!’ Because that’s exactly what I was going for. I want to reach everybody.”
She has found her best-sellers vary with the demographic, with her clientele ranging from older Vermonters to students at the College, who often come for an overview of toys and other offerings.
“It’s tough for me to grasp that all kids are being taught is don’t have sex, if you do, and you really have to, use a condom, and that’s it. End of story,” she said. “I would really love if every single woman was just empowered.”
She sees a lot of women focused on the mens’ pleasure without taking care of their own, especially younger students with less experience and women in heterosexual relationships.
“I’ve met too many women over the years of all education and all backgrounds who say ‘it’s ok, it doesn’t hurt too much and sometimes we even use lube, and that’s really a lot better.’ But the missing piece is always her pleasure, and that drives me crazy.”
The front room of Curve Appeal is lingerie, with the sex toys in a more private back room. The lingerie section caters to women of all sizes. After hearing that there were not good lingerie stores for women larger than a size 12 or 14, relegating women who needed larger sizes to online shopping, Lawson decided to carry up to size 6x.
“My first sale was a 300ish pound woman who bought a corset in a size 6x, so I felt pretty justified there,” said Lawson.
This setup serves a dual function: privacy for her customers and appeasing Middlebury residents who oppose a sex shop on Main Street. She wanted to shelter people who walked in accidentally or with a child, as well as allow her customers who are shy to warm up by looking at bras before mustering the courage to walk through the swinging doors.
“I heard the same thing over and over again: no drugs, no porn, no pipes,” Lawson said. “These are big things to Middlebury, and I don’t agree with any of those, so that worked out perfect.”
Nevertheless, the store has been met with some opposition.
“The first few months of being an open store is that filtering point where people come in and give you their two cents, and that was really hard because I wasn’t prepared for people to say that out loud,” said Lawson. “Vermont is very frightened of change. People here generally want to know what this is all about before they come in, so they’re waiting for their friends.”
But Lawson’s bubbly personality makes clients immediately comfortable, despite any initial reservations.
“I’m just one of those screaming extroverts that people tell all their stuff to at hello,” she said.
She found these confessions especially skyrocketed once she started having a private order room at her parties. While originally she wanted the order room to keep all the money straight, she found that it opened the floodgates for people’s confessions.
“I think it speaks to the trust, but moreover they don’t have anyone else to talk to. This area, especially this county, is extremely small and very sheltered, so you meet people at parties who all have the same last name. They’re not going to stand up and say ‘here’s what’s going on with my husband’ because their husband is her brother, her brother, her son, her grandson, and it’s horrifying for them,” she said.
This trust has led to a loyal customer base, which, after 10 years doing parties in the area, has helped her store get off the ground.
“Once people tell you their sex abuse stories or their anal sex problems or this one time their husband tried to do this, they’re yours forever,” she said.
Carrying the weight of other people’s sex lives, however, can be a heavy burden for Lawson, particularly with stories of sexual abuse. At first, Lawson had no training to deal with these confessions, so she had to compile a resource sheet and find her own counselor to help her process other people’s stories.
“I’d go home at night and be crying on the way home,” she said. “I needed to learn some coping stuff to get rid of that and say that’s their experience, not mine, and tomorrow we’ll meet a whole bunch of new people.”
She particularly relies on mantras and hand washing to help her compartmentalize other people’s stories and not bring them into her personal life.
For anyone who is worried about running into Lawson after telling her secrets about your sex life, fear not.
“This is the whitest, most homogenous state you’ve ever lived in. It’s such a sea of faces at this point” she said, and she is committed to confidentiality.
“Others are much more worried about it than I am,” she said. “I really don’t care that you have your six children, and you just got your first toy. We all know you’re having sex, honey, you have six kids. Secret’s out.”
Lawson also finds herwself teaching men who come into her shop about female pleasure.
“I like the education piece a lot,” she said. “I like that we can joke around about it because it makes people feel a lot more comfortable than if people come at them in a serious or studious way.”
Her big piece of advice for straight men? “The average amount of foreplay a woman needs is 20 to 22 minutes,” she said. “It’s fantastic if her vagina’s wet at hello, but that’s not really saying she’s ready to go. She should be yelling put it in if she’s ready to go.”
A Japanese major in college, Lawson never could have imagined this would be where she ended up.
“This turns out to be what I’m way more passionate about. Although Japanese is a great language, it doesn’t hold a candle to orgasms or keeping couples together.”
Curve Appeal is located at 52 Main Street below Clementine’s and is open 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Lawson offers a five percent “MiddKid” discount to students.