A locked door, a dark, almost bare interior and a large sign reading “Space for Lease” in red letters. Today, that’s all that greets visitors and customers to what was once Wickenden Street’s popular sex store, Miko Exoticwear.
The shop closed this July after a “mismanagement” of funds by the store’s manager – who had quit shortly before then – made it impossible for the business to remain open, owner Jeff Gellman told The Herald.
Gellman said that some bills that he thought had been paid had, in fact, not been paid – what he called a “side-effect” of mishandling and not a cause.
“You delegate someone to run the company and they’re not paying the bills,” he said. “It was mismanaged.”
Gellman first started Miko in 1993 on North Main Street, selling lingerie, sex toys, gifts, books, videos and accessories. Last year he decided to move the store to 268 Wickenden St. – a location with a better layout and greater proximity to Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design. College Hill students made up almost 30 percent of the store’s customers, The Herald reported in March 2007.
Apart from being a store, Miko also included a resource center where classes and workshops were held to promote healthy sexuality.
Gellman acknowledged that after the business moved to its new location he made the mistake of not paying enough attention to it, giving the manager free rein.
In early July, after the manager left on very short notice, Gellman said he and the shop’s full-time employees discovered that their health insurance had expired almost two months ago. Upon delving deeper, Gellman said he saw that the business’s expenses were far exceeding its revenues.
“As much as we want to do well for the community and change the landscape for masturbation and sex in Providence, we have to earn a profit,” he said, adding that he, his wife and six children are still without health insurance.
The store’s closing came as a rude surprise to its workers.
Megan Andelloux, a certified sexuality educator and consultant, who conducted classes and workshops at Miko, said the store’s closing was unfortunate both for its workers and the community.
“It wasn’t just the employees losing their jobs,” she said. “Miko has been an institution that meant something.”
In an effort to replace it, Andelloux said she and a fellow employee are looking to open a nonprofit feminist sex shop – the first of its kind in the country – near campus by mid-February.
Still, Miko’s loyal patrons said they were terribly disappointed that the store no longer exists.
“I was devastated when I found out,” said Amy Littlefield ’09, former post- sex columnist and Female Sexuality Workshop facilitator. “It was a really special place and it’s so sad that it’s gone.”
Littlefield said FemSex participants are most upset because Miko, unlike other sex stores, embraced sex education as its mission. The group also took a field trip to the store as part of its class on sex toys.
“Miko really worked hard to ensure that everyone was using the toys safely,” Littlefield said. “Now we don’t know what we’re going to do. We might go to another store in Boston but Miko was a part of Femsex in a way.”
But Littlefield, who discovered Miko during her first year at Brown, does see a small ray of hope.
“I’ll probably save some money,” she said with a laugh. Littlefield guessed that she spent more than $300 at the store over the course of her Brown career.
Like Littlefield, Hilary Emma, a Pawtucket resident walking down Wickenden Street, seemed shocked that the store no longer existed.
“Yeah, what the hell is that about?” she said when asked how she felt, adding that she misses “the lady-friendly porn shop.”
Miko’s neighbors interviewed by The Herald said they miss the store, too.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Michael Boissoneault, manager of Black Lotus Tattoo Studio next door. “Everybody over there was really cool. Any time a small business like that goes under it sucks.”
But Gellman has decided to move on. Putting the 15-year-old business behind him, he is now focusing on his dog training business, Solid K9 Training, full-time and has no plans to reopen Miko at a different location.
“I’m done buying and selling,” he said. “I’ve found a new passion and I’m going with it.”