The near-north side used to be filled with shady characters and dubious businesses selling the sorts of things you'd only want to carry home in a very opaque brown-paper wrapping. The dubious businesses? Sex stores, of course.
But since the neighborhood's been cleaned up and most of the sex stores have been replaced with high-rise hotels and chain restaurants that cater to tourists—banishing the dirty stuff to the Internet—only a few remain. How do they stay open? (Aside from being willing to sell stuff 24 hours a day?)
The manager at the first store I visited, a 24-hour place a few blocks from the river, refused to tell me. She said the owner didn't want any publicity, which might bring unwelcome attention from the city. She told me to check out Frenchy's Adult Bookstore, a veritable institution right on the edge of the Gold Coast, sheltered from State Street by a discreet awning.
Frenchy's has been open for 30 years, said Lance Watson, who was manning the counter, and has built a loyal customer base of people who prefer to buy their porn and sex toys in person instead of online. "You tell them more about the product," he explained. "It's more of a friendly feel." He allowed that the store had taken a hit on video sales in recent years, but other sales have remained steady.
Frenchy's has a less hard-core feel than the first store. When you walk in, you find yourself eye-to-eye with a rack of party games of the pin-the-something-on-something-else variety, instead of a sign announcing previews of porn videos for $6.99 for 30 minutes (free for ladies).
"We're close to a college," said Watson. "We talk to people about safe sex and encourage them to explore their curiosity. It's slightly giving back. We've never had any trouble with the city. We don't see why they'd be cracking down."