Radical Acceptance: All in a Day’s Work at WeHo’s Pleasure Chest

pleasure chest, sex shop
Brian Robinson, owner, and Sarah Tomchesson, head of operations, at The Pleasure Chest on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. The store has been dispensing sex positivity in WeHo since 1975. (Photo by Michael Jortner).

You know you’ve made it when Freddie Mercury, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe know your name.

In this first of two parts, WEHOville sits down with Brian Robinson, 48, and Sarah Tomchesson, 35, owner/visionary and the head of operations, respectively, of the WeHo institution The Pleasure Chest. (It’s currently #16 on Trip Advisor for WeHo attractions.)

Our discussion ranges from the sex emporium’s long history and top-selling products to sex education, job satisfaction and how Trump becoming president has affected our libidos.

First, some basics. The Pleasure Chest opened in 1971 in the West Village of New York City. Five stores do business in New York, Chicago and WeHo, the latter being the top revenue-producing locations, employing two dozen people. Over 75% of their business occurs in-store, with the remainder being done online.

WEHOville: When you go to cocktail parties do people know The Pleasure Chest? Is it a conversation starter?

BR: Sometimes it’s a little too much of a conversation starter. They’re like, “I’ve got some stories for you.” Then I hear a whole other world that I probably should not be hearing at a cocktail party.

WHV: Do you ever just want to say, “I’m in retail”?

BR: I used to. Now I just tell people.

ST: (interjecting) And you just accept the consequences. [Laughs]

WHV:What are your best-selling products?

ST: One is the Magic Wand, which has been around since the ‘70s. It’s the most powerful vibrator on the market. Originally designed as a back massager, it’s been co-opted. Vibrating toys in general are our best category. But we also have what we call the B-line customer, which tends to be our gay male customers who just know exactly what they like. They come in for their silicone lube and condoms.

pleasure chest, west hollywood, sex shop
Some of the edible, and presumably more lickable, products found at The Pleasure Chest. (Photo by Michael Jortner)

WHV: What is your relationship with your customers?

BR: It’s funny because everybody has a story: “I can remember trying to sneak in there when I was 16 or 17.” It just has that long history with people. They’ll also say what great service they got here really being understood.

WHV: Do you feel your staff are sex educators?

ST: For sure. There’s a lot of training.

WHV: I imagine that your salespeople are good at making people feel comfortable.

ST: Yeah. I tell the staff, “You are the cheapest sex therapists out there.” Ninety-nine percent of the time [customer] questions center around “Am I normal?”

A lot of our job is just normalizing for people their own healthy sexual expression and, like, “You’re not the only one.”

WHV: Describe the philosophy behind your business.

BR: Radical acceptance. A lot of us were raised [with] really religious overtones. There’s so much shame around sexuality. Breaking through that to say, “Your identity is important and that shouldn’t be swatted away from you.”

ST: We want everyone to have a positive experience around their sexuality. Our brand is really fun. You might be coming in for penis pasta and, like, you know, d-ck lollipops, and you maybe see the puppy cage upstairs and it just piques a little interest for you. Or it gets you asking a question that opens you up to something that might not be on your sexual journey now, but one day, when you get there, you’re, like, “I know this place that is gonna have something for me.”

We give a lot of credit that [our customers are] adults and can handle the full spectrum of sexuality.

WHV: Is the minimum age to enter 18?

BR: Yes.

WHV: Tell me about your new website launching next week.

BR: Our new site is a lot more informational. It’s much more organized. The search criteria’s much better. The photographs on the individual products, there’s a lot of detail shots.

ST: The thing Brian isn’t saying is that he’s very hands-on. The reason we’re not in our conference room right now [to do this interview] is because it’s been converted into a photo studio. All of the photography on the [new] site we’ve done in-house.

WHV: Why not use manufacturers’ product shots?

ST: When you’re looking at a lot of the adult sites out there, most of them are using the same photography, the same recycled images. We wanted to set things apart, to shoot the products in more natural lighting so you can see the true colors and textures. I mean, it’s such a tactile experience. It’s actually odd that so much sex toy shopping happens online. We were trying to figure out how we can best translate the in-store experience. Having our own photography was really key.

WHV: What do you attribute your WeHo location’s success to?

BR: It’s been here since 1980. It’s a really large store and has a big parking lot.
ST: There’s just such a history here. You had costume designers. A costume in “Pulp Fiction” they got here. You build a reputation so it’s almost like people will come even when they’re not necessarily looking for something specific. Just because “I need to experience the Pleasure Chest.”

Next week we ponder why Freddie Mercury found inspiration at The Pleasure Chest and current sociopolitical influences on our sexuality.


1 Comment
  1. I’ve been a customer since they first opened. The staff are always helpful, polite and sincere. Wonderful store!

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