Karen Adam isn't just a friendly face behind the counter at Imago, the adult video, magazine and novelty shop on Jasper Mine Road in Colchester. For the last six years, she's been more of a "professional pleasure consultant" who advises individuals and couples young and old on new and exciting ways to keep their passion stoked.
Imago, chosen by Seven Days readers as the "Best Erotic Toyshop" three years in a row, is a breed apart from both the dank and seedy sex shops and the high-end erotic boutiques often found in big cities. Clean, spacious and well lit, Imago offers a wide variety of lotions, gadgets and gizmos designed to stimulate and arouse, without the presence of tobacco products and drug paraphernalia. Its well-stocked video collection is designed to titillate virtually any taste or temperament.
As Adam explains, some first-time Imago shoppers are a bit bashful, befuddled or bowled over by the vast array of products at their fingertips -- such as the "Pleasure Periscope" battery-operated vibrator, the "Lollicocks" all-day sucker (available in five flavors), the "Seymore Buttz Climax-Her Cream" for female clitoral enhancement, and other anatomically accurate accoutrements whose size and functionality can be hard to fathom.
Adam's job is to gently guide, in a matter-of-fact manner, newcomers and regulars to their ultimate destination. This week, she's excited about some new products that have been selling well in the Valentine's season, including the "52 Weeks of Romance" and "52 Weeks of Naughty Nights" scratch tickets.
"These flew out of here," Adam says. "I had one woman come in here and ask me what I said to her husband, because he's been so awesome. I didn't have the heart to tell her he bought these. That's just his little secret."
SEVEN DAYS: How did you get into this line of work?
KAREN ADAM: Actually, I worked for two Fortune 500 companies in a management capacity, and one day I said, I'm not doing this anymore. I was bagging bread at Klinger's Bread factory on the third shift and had shaved my head when I saw the [employment] ad in Seven Days and came in and applied.
SD: What kind of responses do you get when you tell people you work here?
KA: It depends. Being in customer service as long as I have, I've become a pretty good read on people. There are some people I just don't tell. I say, "It's a video store," and leave it at that. The ones you can tell are like, "Cool! What's it like there?"
SD: What are the common misconceptions people have about your job?
KA: Being the type of business it is, you're going to have those types of individuals that aren't as -- what's the right word? -- savory as others. But we see every variety of people. We're in a state where minds are more open and we get less of the seedy stuff. Lots of couples and women. And men, of course. We also get a lot of older people, which is really cool. It gives you hope for the future. When you hear a 70-year-old couple say, "We need to spice it up" -- all right!
SD: What do you direct them to?
KA: It depends what they're looking for. One of the lines I use, and I generally apologize when I say it, is, "What do you want to do?" Because you know what the end result is that they want. But how do you want to get there? We do have a lot of older gentlemen that come in to talk to us about E.D. [erectile dysfunction] and the pumps. We also have a lot of people who come and say, "It's dead. I don't know what to do." A lot of times our re-
commendation is, "Go back to the beginning. Forget about buying anything that leads to the obvious. Get some massage oil. Get a copy of Penthouse Letters or stuff like that."
SD: Do you approach or talk to everyone who comes in here?
KA: It depends. We usually try to greet people when they come in the door. [We will approach] if we notice people asking a lot of questions among themselves. Some people come in and know exactly what they're looking for and they're in and out in 10 minutes. And then you have your regulars.
SD: What's the best part of your job?
KA: There is so much. I had to have my gall bladder out the day after Christmas on an emergency situation, and they had gotten me a get-well card and were going to mail it to me. There were signatures from about 20 of my regular customers on the card as well. I ended up taking a sabbatical for six months and people actually tracked me down at home. I ran into people and they were like, "Are you coming back? It's just not the same without you."
Definitely, the product testing is a plus, too. And, the fact that most of the people who come in here you know by name. It's a very relaxed atmosphere. You can't be in here and not smile. Just about everybody likes this type of thing.
SD: Any downsides to the job?
KA: The downside would be the prejudices and misconceptions that people formulate if they find out from a different source where I work, or when I do meet some of the more skittish customers outside of here and they give you the, "Oh, no! She's out from behind the counter!" It's not like I'm going to run up to them and ask how their latest purchased item went. I went to a movie once and there was a man who comes in here pretty regularly and he had his kids with him. I only noticed him because when he saw me, he grabbed his kids and started moving them in the other direction.
SD: What the oddest thing you've ever been asked?
KA: Aside from the electroids that people want to hook up to their genitals for enhanced stimulation . . .
SD: You don't sell those, do you?
KA: No. I had somebody ask me out to dinner because he liked my teeth and he wanted to watch me eat. That was the weirdest.