Upon first stumbling in, this building on Lyndale Avenue South looks like an average bookstore, displaying shelves lined with books placed against an exposed brick wall and a few couches for lounging.
But when you take a closer look, you realize that reading materials are not all Smitten Kitten offers.
The incredibly inclusive, education-based sex toy store in Uptown also provides products that are safe to use in and around the body. When they opened their store, their first box of vibrators actually melted.
“The owner, [Jennifer Pritchett] was like ‘This can’t be good for our bodies,’” said Archie Bongiovanni, sex educator and outreach coordinator at Smitten Kitten.
Since then, they have only carried products with non-toxic, ethically-produced, body-friendly materials, specifically with sexual health in mind.
“We’re supporting brands that are an extension of our own values,” said Elani Davidson, the store’s general manager.
Smitten Kitten opened its doors 16 years ago, a time in which manufacturers were not necessarily aware of what their products were made of.
Pritchett has centered its mission on education, too. Each floor associate is given formal training in sex education that allows them to help customers with questions they may have.
“A lot of people come in and say, ‘This is probably a really weird question,’ and almost always it’s a question that we hear often,” said Cat Hammond, the store’s website manager. “We really affirm that for a lot of us in daily life, [sex is] not something that we have a lot of experience talking about.”
Smitten Kitten is aiming to change that. The store frequently hosts workshops to discuss how factors like age, gender and preferences intersect with those intimate moments you share with a partner.
“Whether it’s us doing the workshop, or we bring someone else in, that has always been a part of our store,” Bongiovanni said. “It’s about sex education accessibility. We really try to highlight voices that aren’t necessarily at the forefront of conversations in sexuality.”
Everything in the store, from the lending library in the front to the products on the shelves, are available to touch and ask about.
“You can pick things up [and] familiarize yourself with the products that we sell,” Hammond said. “We have a lending library, which is an additional educational resource. The big takeaway is just meant for it to feel like a familiar safe place where you can ask questions and get informative answers by our educated staff.”
Those who have frequented Smitten Kitten since its opening have typically been people who are less concerned about the stigma around sex. More recently, that has changed.
“It’s just really awesome to see folks thinking about sex and sexuality in a new way,” Bongiovanni said. “It kind of opens up their eyes, when they realize that they’re not alone when they’re experiencing a thing, whatever that might be. That can be really powerful to be a part of that conversation.”
While sex education is an important aspect of the store, so is having fun. Smitten Kitten celebrated its 16th anniversary with a “Kinky Bingo” event on Sept. 20.
“We’re really optimistic about our future,” Davidson said. “We’re blessed to be in this industry for 16 years and be a trustworthy resource to the community. If you haven’t heard of us or been in the store, give us a chance. It’s a place for everyone.”