When most people think of a feminist bookstore they think of something out of Portlandia, where the shelves are filled with copies of The Female Eunuch and every conversation becomes a debate. But situated inside of a Bushwick laundromat is a very different kind of feminist bookstore.
Troll Hole, which celebrates its first anniversary with a party at Starr Bar on Thursday, doubles as a sex shop. In a space that fits just 10 people at a time, nipple clamps, vibrators, and lube launchers share shelf space with publications that are primarily made by, for and about diverse people and experiences. After all, wonders co-owner Monica Yi, “How many zines can you have about armpit hair?”
Yi, a 30-year-old graphic designer, jokes that people probably have considered her a feminazi, but that’s not the feeling you’d get once you step inside the shop. She and her two business partners came up with the idea for Troll Hole a few years back, during a stay at what Hayley Blatte, 31, describes as a “weird orgy cabin” in the Catskills.
“We rented it because of the Shania Twain poster,” recalls Blatte, who consults for a software company. “The vibes were very creepy. And it had this very intense shower mirror on your pubic area with ten different mirrors coming out of it.”
That’s where Yi first thought of the idea for Troll Hole. “I do have the actual text message saved and it’s just me rambling about why aren’t there any sex stores in Brooklyn,” Yi said. “We started talking about Troll Hole because we were all talking about trolls or something.”
They were excited about opening the sex shop, but they didn’t know how to go about it or where to open it. Until the day Yi walked into the 24-hour Mermaid Laundromat to wash her clothes and saw a three-by-five sign on the window. It said space available. Just $600 per month.
By the end of the month Yi, Blatte, and their partner Justin Shock, a 38-year-old vintage-store manager, had signed a lease. Their shop started as a corner of the laundromat separated by only a tarp until they raised $800 to build a wall and a door that’s now adorned with silver holographic streamers. Inside, there’s wall-to-wall purple AstroTurf and the walls and windows are covered with Troll Hole decals with only an empty slice to peek through from outside.
In the shop, customers are treated to a colorful safe space that caters to underrepresented voices. Here, you won’t find any of the pink pussy hats that have recently become inseparable from the feminist movement.
“I fucking hated them the minute they were conceived,” Yi said. “People love that shit. Like the ‘nasty women’ t-shirts. What are you going to do about it? I think that’s why we do have a selection process and we do give definite preference to people of color.”
To keep Troll Hole from becoming a shop that sells more mainstream zines, the owners give priority to submissions by people of color and queer people. At the same time, they often find it difficult to maintain consistent conversations with people of color because zines typically aren’t their primary source of income. “It also seems like a lot of white women have access to resources that will allow them to pursue their art over everything else. Even if it’s mediocre,” said Blatte, who also makes zines, but hasn’t had the chance since opening the store.
Along with under-the-radar feminist, queer and pro-intersectional zines, Troll Hole sells other gifts like Beyoncé and Black Daria pins and clothing. Not only do the products cater to people of color, women of color also get a 10 percent discount. “It’s not so much if you’re a white guy who came in here you’d pay more or if you weren’t you’d pay less,” Shock said. “That’s in part to address the inequality of pay scales.”
And it wouldn’t be a sex shop without adult coloring books and poppers – meaning nitrates, not the confetti party poppers. They’ve proven popular with a repeat offender at the shop who has come to be known as “the poppers thief.”
“That little shit totally stole a bottle of poppers from us,” Shock said. “Maybe it’s a fetish, to be honest.” Not to be outdone, one man likes to come in and steal lube, but not before he drains the contents of the shop’s bottle and pours it into his personal lube container.
Whatever the fetish, Troll Hole is working to expand their range of sex toys and products. They’ve been teasing a new collection on their website for a while now. They’re hoping to begin collecting and selling dirty and gently worn undergarments, like socks and underwear, soon. “Sometimes people think it’s a joke because we’re in a laundromat,” Shock said. “And they’re like, ‘Do you sell people’s dirty laundry?’ And it’s like, ‘Do you have some? What’s your rate?’ But we had some customers and possible future vendors who are very interested in that.” One of those vendors is their friend, who is eager about their new venture and has repeatedly expressed interest in wearing some of the underwear that would be sold.
Finding the time to source more products has proven to be quite difficult, especially while maintaining their full-time jobs. And considering they’ve only made enough money to break even each month, it may take longer than they’d like. For now, their goal is to get more vendors and make enough to start paying themselves.
Entry for Thursday’s party and awards ceremony at Starr Bar is $5 or free if you donate items for The Homeless Mother’s Day Brunch put on by We Feed NYC and Hey There Beautiful. More details can be found here.