When you live in a repressed environment, tied to the fact that we have both the highest porn subscription tally and one of the weakest sex-education programs in North America, it's pretty easy to see why Utah has some of the strangest misconceptions about sex and sexual activity in the U.S. It isn't like the information isn't out there, but finding resources to speak on the subject are few and far between. One of the most surprising sources to both educate and help those looking for help in these areas has been The Dahlia Room, an adult boutique shop on Broadway that has spent the last year helping women (and occasionally men) find things that work best for them in whatever they may need, as well as providing resources to better understand themselves and their desires. Today we chat with our old friend and shop owner Jennifer Fei about opening the room and what they provide. (All pictures courtesy of The Dahlia Room.
Gavin: How have you been since we last chatted?
I’ve been great. Busy getting a new business off the ground and being a single mom. I love it all, so I can’t really complain. Had a great summer with my kids and saw some great concerts. I already have some fall camping planned, so excited to get the school year started.
Gavin: In our last interview, you were running Purse Dreams at 9th & 9th. What eventually became of the shop?
Well, after two years, I realized Purse Dreams wasn’t growing fast enough and it was not going to be able to support me and my family. I decided to close it down to open up The Dahlia Room. I think one of the hardest decisions of any entrepreneur is when to call it quits. No one starts any business wanting it to fail, but eventually you need to look at reality and make a decision.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start the Dahlia Room?
I actually had the idea when I had Purse Dreams, and wanted to utilize the extra space I had in that store. I realized that the concept wasn’t going to work in that area. I thought about the sex shops currently open in Salt Lake City, and wanted to create a different shopping experience. Having lived in New York City, New Jersey, D.C. and Seattle, I knew that there were amazing sex-positive shops out there, and Salt Lake City was needing that type of shop.
Gavin: What specifically separates your shop from others like Blue Boutique or Doctor John's?
The biggest difference is that we don’t carry everything that is available in the adult novelty market. Your traditional sex shop is filled with many inexpensive novelty items that are not always body safe. I have curated The Dahlia Room so that every purchase is guaranteed to be high quality, well designed, body safe, and backed by solid companies that are proud of what they are producing. Also, we have extremely educated and friendly staff that are there to really help you find something that will make you happy and teach you what you need to know to use the product properly. We have an elegant open space that allows you to shop in leisure without feeling cramped.
Gavin: Why didn't you stick around at 9th & 9th, and how did you eventually come across the location on Broadway?
9th & 9th is a vibrant community, and I loved my time there, but I also knew that the family-friendly neighborhood wasn’t exactly the right fit for my new shop. I came across the Broadway location quite by accident. I had a brief conversation with my friend, Lindsay Vieta Vest, who was a great customer of Purse Dreams and also a commercial real estate agent. Literally three days after that conversation about my idea, she called me saying a client of hers was looking for a shop like my concept in his Broadway location. I believe that the universe pushes you in the direction that it wants you to go and we just have to listen. Within three months, I had closed Purse Dreams and started the build-out for The Dahlia Room.
Gavin: How did you go about choosing the specific products you would have featured in the shop?
I wanted to carry only the best products out there. I’ve done a lot of research with other shops, websites and sex bloggers who have been in this industry longer than I to help me select those products to carry at the shop. I am very selective and try not to carry brands that have aggressive packaging or unsavory materials. I want my customers to know that I have hand-picked these items out of the millions available, so they can feel comfortable knowing that they will be happy with their purchase and they won’t feel intimidated by a huge selection of items they are not familiar with.
Gavin: On the fashion side of things, what do you look for when finding new items to feature?
I think that right now you are seeing more edgy lingerie and that is reflected in some of the items we carry. Like our local favorites Anjel
Skull, who makes amazing elastic harnesses and garters, and Moldie
Goldie, who makes sexy mesh tanks and high waisted panties. I also have a selection of vintage lingerie for those who are looking for something more feminine and traditional. I am always wanting to support our amazing local artists and am hoping to expand our selection soon.
Gavin: It appears most of the focus is on women, although there are some men's products available. Was that done on purpose, or is that simply the nature of this kind of business?
This was done on purpose. I specifically wanted to create a space that focused on women and their sexual needs. The sex toy industry originally grew out of the porn industry, which is made by and for men. Most of the products of the past were designed and made by men with little regard to what women wanted or needed. This has changed significantly over the past 10 years, and now you have many companies that are women-centered and it shows in the products they make. This is why we have a majority of products focused on women.
Gavin: You and I had previously talked about how women are sometimes unsure of what to do or look for, but you provide a service for them of what to look for. What specifically do you do to help them?
I try to ask a lot of questions. I realize that not everyone is familiar with sex toys and not as comfortable talking about sex as I am, so my job is to make them feel comfortable enough to give me the information I need to help them make a purchase they will be happy with. Many women don’t realize that a vibrator doesn’t have to be a large phallic looking item and can be a discrete little piece that hides easily among her makeup kit. So many couples are looking for something that will improve their intimacy and don’t know about the amazing couples toys that are out there specifically designed for them. I’m here to inform more than just sell. Once the customer is better informed, they can buy with confidence.
Gavin: How often do you come across people who have misconceptions about the shop or sex in general?
Many people come in the shop thinking it’s a traditional smut filled shop, and very quickly realize that there won’t be much to gawk or giggle about. I use Charles Eames’ famous quote, “Take your pleasure seriously” as our shop motto. We are here to present an adult space to learn, discuss and explore our sexuality. I find that many adults who have not had the opportunity to discuss sex in a healthy adult manner have difficulty navigating discussions about sex with their partners. Very simply, they don’t have the tools and vocabulary to have that discussion. We’re here to help you have the best sex possible, and that starts with conversation.
Gavin: Do you special order items for people or is it simply what you have available in the shop?
There are several items that I think are great, but I don’t regularly carry at the shop because they tend to be high priced larger items. I can always special order something that the customer is looking for. I realize that not everyone is looking for a Njoy stainless steel dildo which retails for over $300, but someone who is wanting one can order one easily from the shop.
Gavin: Have you had any blowback from the city or community so far, like other shops have had around Utah?
I think that Utah has a unique cultural stigma when it comes to sex, but I also know that everyone, regardless of background, is looking to improving their intimacy with their partner. I try to be considerate of everyone and create a space that is comfortable for all kinds of people. I’ve had a few people walk out of the shop fairly quickly after walking in, but that is about all the difficulty I’ve had. I think most people who work and live in the area are very excited to have a shop like The Dahlia Room in downtown.
Gavin: I understand you have had classes and sessions as the shop as well. Who have you had come to the shop and how can people get in on those events?
Education is one of the most important missions of The Dahlia Room. I don’t consider myself an expert, so I love bringing in experts to teach a variety of classes. We’ve had several classes taught by Julie Spanks, who is a professional dominatrix. This fall we have Finch and Jane from F & J Education teaching a series of five classes that span in topics from basic sex education to beginner kink skills. We also have a Intro to Tantra class scheduled with a visiting instructor, Trish Wright. All of our classes can be found on our Facebook
page under events as well as through Eventbright. If you follow us on Instagram
, I usually remind people when classes are happening.
Gavin: Are you looking to expand the shop in any way in the near future or are you keeping things how they are?
My biggest goal is to improve the inventory selection. I opened up The Dahlia Room on my own last year and worked with a limited budget. I am proud of what I’ve created and want to see the shop filled with even more amazing products year after year.
Gavin: If anyone has a question on any items available, what would they need to do to seek your help?
We are open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11-6 and can usually be reached at the shop 801-953-0088.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and the shop over the rest of 2015?
We are celebrating our one year anniversary on the next Downtown Gallery Stroll on Sept. 18, and would love to see some new faces show up to celebrate the first year under our garter belt. We will remain busy with classes and you will also see The Dahlia Room represented at a variety of events and festivals in the new year.