Your Local Neighbourhood Sex Shop Co-Operative: Come As You Are

“We are the anti-experts,” admits Jack Lamon, one of the worker-owners of Toronto’s Come As You Are.” Sure, we know a lot about sex toys, books, DVDs and sex generally, but we firmly believe that you are the only expert on your body and your pleasure. We always assume that our customers know more than we do about what they're looking for—because they do!”

You can’t be involved in sex and sexuality in Toronto without knowing Come As You Are. The little shop’s influence is felt through their continued support of many diverse sexual communities. Founded in 1997 by Carrie Grey, Sandra Haar and Cory Silverberg, Come As You Are operates as a co-operative. Based on democratic principles, the co-founders put Come As You Are together because there weren’t any sex-positive shops focusing on accessibility and high-quality products. Current worker-owners Jack, Holly Hirst and Sarah Forbes-Roberts continue the tradition.

The co-operative model is a difficult arrangement to sustain in a retail environment, but the Come As You Are community continues on. “We exist in both a co-operative realm and a capitalist realm, and it is extremely difficult to provide a great working environment (with health benefits, worker's rights, etc) and great customer service and keep things accessible while still making enough money to stay in business. For us, as long as we keep ourselves employed (and keep the store open) and are able to provide a service people find valuable and essential, we're happy to keep on breaking even at the end of our fiscal year.”

With their focus on customer service and supporting people who practice marginalized forms of sexuality, Come As You Are established a list of 11 Core Values as their mandate:

  1. sex the way you want it
  2. customer service that helps
  3. no come ons
  4. be accessible
  5. be the anti-Experts
  6. be worthy of trust
  7. create nerdy fun
  8. contribute co-operatively
  9. be generous
  10. working harder to make sex easier
  11. live our name

Creating a sexually-progressive environment in large city such as Toronto is certainly easier than it would be in smaller cities and towns. Recognizing this, Come As You Are takes community engagement and interaction to heart. “We do a tremendous amount of educational and community outreach in the form of sex toy and sex educational workshops for community groups, organizations, schools, universities, etc. We run these workshops for free when organizations cannot afford an honourarium (which is often the case). Additionally, we donate and promote local events and causes whenever we can afford to do so.”

This summer, Come As You Are will be undergoing some changes to their cooperative structure, with the hope of allowing more workers to become worker-owners, to promote full democracy. “We really believe that the more people we have fully engaged in this project, the more we can do in the future!”