As part of BYT sex month, we did what had to be done: sent our interns out to visit some choice sex shops in DC, and get the full scoop on best products, hot trends, and your friendly sexy neighborhood sales personnel.
all photos: Temniet Mesgna
As you walk up the stairs to the Leather Rack you don’t know what to expect, but once you reach the top you get completely awed at the amount of products this small boutique can hold. From leather pants, covers, dildos and cock rings the Leather Rack caters to the BDSM crowd and new comers.Yet, what is hidden under the surface is the philanthropic ideals that Leather Rack has be doing the last few years.
BYT spoke with Chaz, the general manager, who went from the real estate business to helping people find their inner-fetish self and enjoy it.
What is the specialty of Leather Rack?
We cater to the fetish, BDSM [bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism] crowd.
What are the most highly rated products you have?
What we call toys, which is the dildos. Of course the fetish bondage gear is always good. A lot of clothes.
What kind of clothes?
They are geared towards the most BDSM fetish crowd, but it something that you can wear to the bar and wear on the street.
Oh, so it fits in, a little inconspicuous.
A little bit, but then you dress it up at night to show what you are trying to accomplish.
How did the store get started?
Glad you asked. The store began in 1972, it started over the DC Eagle, a small little leather shop. It’s grown, of course. This store has been in existence since ’72 at this location.
Right. A couple things that I like about us; One is that we give a lot of money to the community. Through donations, through play money, where groups can auction off, you name it we do it. We get requests from groups all the time who need auction items or play money, for people to come in and shop. So, we do a lot of that!
So you are big philanthropists.
Yeah, more so than any store, organization that I’ve come across. We do it all the time and big time.
What is the most recent donation that you’ve given?
I can’t say about the last one, but we just did an auction for Team DC sports, which raises money for the gay athletic people. We helped out with the fashion show there. We do, we have things that are consistently on a monthly basis. Like at the DC Eagle there’s a jock contest, and we donate prize money for that. There is, pretty much any fetish organization that is doing something, we’re involved with. Or like the Gay and Lesbian Chorus we’ve given them auction items. I don’t think there’s anybody we say no to.
I like it!
It’s simple, it can be any thing from play money where they can win a prize and come in and spend money in the store or it’s actual items that we donate. We are big on community. Another thing is we also help instruct with the things we sell in store.
So you help give education about it.
Right, because we don’t want people getting hurt or purchasing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. So we listen to what the customer says.
So you’re their guidance.
I think that’s another key of success.
What is the most common question you are asked?
Believe it or not! Cock rings. But toys, dildos, pretty much everything we sell we kind say, ‘Have you used this before? If not, is it your first time? Maybe we should move to something else.’ We don’t pressure people to buy stuff, we just give them options so they can choose.
That’s good that you’re super open about it because of someone comes in and is shy to begin with them they’re kind of stuck. But having someone who is really open to help them out is good.
Well, the whole staff is very open. That is how I train the staff, to be educational and open. We’re gona do more as far as education goes, little workshops and things of that nature.
Kind of like a lamaze class.
Pretty much. So those things are what we’re gearing for.
That’s cool though to offer those classes so people become more educated and knowledgeable.
I’m actually really interested in what the typical customer would go for?
We don’t have typical customers. It all depends. Our demographics are all over. It’s gay straight, young old, experienced, novice
Here’s a question: Have you ever had a virgin come in?
Man! I would never have thought. Are they open to everything?
Our job is to get them to open up. Find out exactly what their needs are and what they’re looking for.
Have you ever had an incidents where something just shocking happen in the store?
No, because we monitor the store, the customers. You have to.
What is the most expensive product that you have?
I would say the leather pants. We have some that go for $300 – $400. Normally leather, doesn’t sell much in the summer time. Full leather gear, shirts, pants, but we still sell a lot of gear, like vests, boots, covers. We have some leather pants specially made for us, under $150 and we offer those to beginners.
That’s nice though so you can appeal to a lot of different economic demographics too.
Yeah, and that’s part of my job, to find out the prices and get a good quality for the prices.
How are your return policies?
Our return policy is, if it is not a personal item, it can be returned back into the store within 30 days.
So what is a non-personal item? A cover?
A non-personal item, yeah you can bring a cover back or a pair of pants. But here’s a good statistic, in the 2 ½ years I’ve been general manager, we’ve had 4-6 returns.
Really! So how do you pick the products?
All on the Internet?
Yeah, I have certain vendors, like for are dildos they can call me up and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got something new.’ Actually in 3 weeks I’m going to Baltimore to where they are, and go through their massive warehouse where everything is.
Being like, ‘we need this, and that and that’.
Yeah, ‘cause going on their website is kind of cumbersome. So I have some good vendors. I shop a lot online, which is fun, but kind of tedious at times. I ask a lot of questions when I’m out and about like, ‘Hey where’d you get that shirt? Hey where’d you get that cover? Why are you wearing what you’re wearing? What do you like about it most?’
So you get a lot of feedback from customers. Do customers ever come in and say, ‘Hey we really want to try this can you find it?’
Does that happen on a weekly basis, monthly?
So you have a super loyal customer base.
Yeah, we are always interacting with them.
So the business overall, how has the neighborhood, because you’ve been here for so long, you’re pretty much established, you haven’t had any people coming in here being like complaining or anything?
Absolutely not, another good thing is that the District 2 Police Department are awesome. They come up in here every so often, they hang out. They don’t intimidate the customers, they don’t try to do anything they just want to make sure that we’re okay.
So they just stop in and say hey?
Yeah, they just stop in and say hey.
You guys don’t even ask them to do that? They just come in.
Yeah, they just come in, and I think that really helps.
I’m sure it does, it shows community support.So, focusing a little more on you, how long have you worked here?
2 ½ years.
How did you get involved in working here?
I have been in BDSM fetish play for about 14 years. I was in commercial real-estate, and it flopped. And I saw that Jim was looking for a general manager, applied, and came in and took over.
So everything’s been going pretty smoothly since you’ve come in, you haven’t been hit too hard by the recession.
The recession, we‘re not up as much as we used to be, but we’re not floundering either.
Good, so a steady pace.
Yeah, pretty much. And there’s even recently been rumors that Leather Rack is going out of business and closing, but that’s totally false. We’ve gotten awards recently that keep reminding us of why we do what we do.
BHT, Brother Help Thyself, Dodson Award, which is given to a business that help the community. And then the DC Boys of Leather, that’s the Brotherhood Award. Because the leather community is a very tight knit community.
I think that the Leather Rack is totally different than many of the other shops. And other shops send people over all the time.
Mostly they don’t know how to answer a question so they send them over here.
What I’m looking for in the future, is more community involvement. We need to get back out there, I haven’t been out in a few months. So I get yelled at from the people being like, ‘We haven’t seen you in a while!’ And we’re bringing in new items to keep things fresh. Working with the staff more, working with the different types of demographics. And the customers tell us when we’re screwing up.
What are some of the comments you get?
When I go to the bars, I get hit all the time. It was good for me when I first came on board, I heard all these complaints. So I took care of their arguments and complaints. Now they’re always coming up with, ‘I saw this online’ or ‘I saw this’ or ‘I want to try this’ and you are able to build a rapport. And that’s one of the best things, if you have a great rapport with our community and customers.
So how do you feel about being right across the street from Pleasure Place?
No problems? No competition?
Nuh uh. Again, I think every store has their own thing, but I think our customer satisfaction rate is very high. And we’re out there in the community, which a lot of stores don’t. And not just sex stores, stores in general just don’t. We have GWU brings classes over here and I teach a real quick class. Howard has been here. Gallaudet has been here. To us, this is normal.
Yeah, you’re just teaching people about it.
Yeah, the best part is teaching them that it’s okay. My rule is that if it is safe, sane and consensual, it’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. And like I said, we get straight couples, we get gay couples, bi couples and we put them at ease. It’s fun, it’s a fun job. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be doing it.
The Leather Rack is located at 1723 Connecticut Ave, NW. With their involvement in the gay, lesbian and transgender community they have built a following that is constantly growing and making the store better. They have an extremely open staff and are always willing to help!