All porn stores are not the same. Maybe in some circles that goes without saying; for the casual observer, though, it's worth pointing out that each of Knoxville's adult businesses targets a particular market. (Yes, Knoxville has multiple stores that cater to your erotic needs; there are fewer of them than there are Methodist churches, but more of them than there are Indian restaurants, independent CD retailers, or movie theaters that show foreign films.)
Hardcore S&M gear? Drive to Atlanta or check out the Internet. You won't find much of that in town. But novelties for a bachelorette party? Marital aids for that special weekend? A remote-control vibrator? Midget movies? Listings for local swingers? Light-bondage videos? Fetish magazines? You can find all that and more.
My girlfriend and I made a recent one-day tour of Knoxville's most prominent adult businesses. The following guide offers a run-down on each store and its specialties, ratings based on the chances that your adult-entertainment needs will be met and how creepy the store makes a casual customer feel, and comments from my girlfriend.
Adult Video Super Store • 515 Lovell Rd.
Maybe it's no surprise that the Adult Video Super Store on Lovell Road is located just a few hundred yards away from the massive shopping compound at Turkey Creek. AVSS is nearly as big as a mall department store and, as adult stores go, it's about as freshly scrubbed and family-friendly as Target.
The front of the store is taken up by sexy underwear on the right—everything from basic lingerie to stripper gear and naughty nurse costumes—and a couple of racks of magazines, most of them featuring young white women with large breasts, on the left. A row of novelties and toys runs the length of one wall. You can find cupcake tins shaped liked DD breasts, pocket-sized vibrators, strap-on dildos, and box sets of oils, lubricants, feathers, lotions, and explicit guide books. The Lover's Colossal Collection features items like the Rock Hard Power Spray as well as a handy tube of toy cleanser and a purple plastic pump.
The bulk of the sales floor, though, is filled with the store's stock of 100,000 DVDs. It's by far the largest collection in town—men with women, women with women, major studio releases, some amateur collections, and vintage '70s and '80s anthologies. A small section of gay videos can be found in the back corner, and a handful of so-called special-interest movies—mostly midgets and mild kink—are tucked near the back.
The crowning jewel of the store's stock is Hustler's Virtual Girl, a disarmingly lifelike foam-rubber companion molded in a kneeling position that runs $699.99. (A vibrating upgrade is sold separately.)
My Girlfriend Says: "The DVD inventory is pretty impressive and well-managed, but the lingerie section is costume-heavy. I can buy half of their lingerie at Party City."
Chances That Your Adult-Entertainment Requirements Will Be Fulfilled: 8 out of 10
Creepiness Factor: Negligible
Intimate Treasures • 5710 Kingston Pike
Tucked into the corner of a decades-old strip mall in Bearden, next to a nail salon, Intimate Treasures is barely noticeable from the road. The store's mild sense of discretion continues inside—the front of the shop is dedicated to lingerie and the largest collections of stripper shoes and stockings in town.
The small back room, clearly marked as 18 and up, is just as couples-oriented as the front. There's a small collection of videos, many of them explicit instructional guides, and adult toys, including the Ron Jeremy 9-and-3/4-Inch Dong ("Introduce Yourself to My Very Best Feature," the front of the package reads). The store's well-groomed take on sex play extends to a range of "intimate wipes"—"Get It Off After Getting It Off."
Surprisingly, Intimate Treasures is one of only two places in town (the other is Romantic Escapades) to get either a full-face leather mask (marked down to $24.99) or a ball gag.
My Girlfriend Says: "Possibly the best lingerie store in town, with a solid selection of shoes and stockings. The back room's attention to seduction is endearing; it's the porn store my mom could approve of. I don't think she'd know what the ball gag is."
Chances That Your Adult-Entertainment Requirements Will Be Fulfilled: 7 out of 10
Creepiness Factor: Minimal, but the intimate wipes add a point or two.
West Knox News • 5005 Kingston Pike
What was once the centerpiece of Knoxville's adult business community—the store's been around since the late 1970s, long enough to qualify as a Bearden institution—has lost some of its seedy prestige in recent years. Fifteen years ago, West Knox News was stuffed with exotic European magazines, all manner of VHS tapes, kinky books, and more toys than any other store in town. Now the store barely has enough merchandise to fill its shelves. The handful of magazines on the stand right inside the front door—various editions of mainstream cheesecake published by Penthouse and Hustler, a few swingers' guides, and a small collection of bondage books—are spaced apart in a vain effort to make it look like there are more of them than there are. The toy selection is equally sparse—a few standard dildos and vibrators and a rack of old-fashioned pornographic greeting cards—as is the video collection.
My Girlfriend Says: "Between the anime blow-up doll, the matronly see-through lavender gown, and the relatively high percentage of bondage material, I don't know what's going on here. I get the feeling I'm not their demographic. Maybe Norman Bates is."
Chances That Your Adult-Entertainment Requirements Will Be Fulfilled: 3 out of 10
Creepiness Factor: Significant, and the concrete floors don't help.
Rainbow Video • 4119 N. Broadway St.
This modest video rental store in North Knoxville has stayed open since 1991 by quietly offering one of the best selections of adult video in town. There aren't many extras—a small rack of toys on the wall and a case of smoking paraphernalia in the front room, along with a small and totally beside-the-point section of mainstream Hollywood videos. (Jim Carrey's Liar Liar is the most recent release, if that says anything.)
Like the other stores in Knoxville, there's not much in Rainbow Video that's genuinely kinky. But, as the store's name not-so-subtly indicates, there's an emphasis on man-on-man material. Rainbow Video has more gay DVDs—and a bigger percentage of its stock dedicated to gay porn—than any other store in town. That doesn't mean it's exclusive, though. In addition to straight porn and girl-on-girl, the store also has a big section of classic movies, from Sylvester Stallone's Italian Stallion and Bob Guccione's Caligula to John Holmes anthologies and The Green Door.
My Girlfriend Says: "This is nice. A no-nonsense, tucked-away place that probably has whatever you need."
Chances That Your Adult-Entertainment Requirements Will Be Fulfilled 7 out of 10
Creepiness Factor: Minimal, until the clerk asked if we had any $1 bills to trade for fives.
Town & Country • 7011 Clinton Hwy.
Like West Knox News, Town & Country is a fading classic, located just past the old airplane gas station on Clinton Highway in Powell. The selection at T&C is slightly larger than that at West Knox News, smaller than either Rainbow Video or Adult Video Super Store. T&C does offer some specialties not found elsewhere—a small shelf of animated videos and the only male blow-up dolls found in town, including The Construction Man and his 8-inch Tool (flannel shirt not included). Points deducted for labeling the shelf of movies with overweight women as the "Fatties" category.
My Girlfriend Says: "The guy behind the counter leered at me when I walked in the door, which isn't so much creepy as it is overkill. I don't want my bartenders drunk, and I don't want my sex-shop employees horny."
Chances That Your Adult-Entertainment Requirements Will Be Fulfilled: 4 out of 10
Creepiness Factor: "Fatties" puts it in the high range, and the leering sales clerk sends it off the chart.
Romantic Escapades • 7624 Chapman Hwy.
It's like the Gap for porn. This unassuming little store, just outside the city limits, is well-lit, thoroughly stocked, and professionally staffed—there's not even a whiff of shame about the place. It's the sex shop for the 21st century—lingerie here, videos (lots of them) there, and toys and novelties all around. Romantic Escapades has fewer DVDs than the Adult Video Super Store and less lingerie than Intimate Treasures, but more toys than both. An almost numbing array of sex toys, in fact, from swings and stools and cushions to beads, bondage tape, gels, and a full line of Fleshlight tools. Romantic Escapades even has gift cards. Bonus points for both plus-size and African-American mannequins.
Seriously, this is how to run a sex store.
My Girlfriend Says: "Some specialty stores create such an appealing world that, even though you rarely want anything enough to buy it, you feel a little sad when you leave empty-handed. And you still tell everyone you know how much you love that store. That's what this place does; it's like the Williams-Sonoma of sex shops, and it makes me so darn happy."
Chances That Your Adult-Entertainment Requirements Will Be Fulfilled: 9 out of 10
Creepiness Factor: Negligible