They were dressed smartly, as if they had just dined at one of Waltham's fancier downtown restaurants. When he opened the shop 11 years ago with his younger brother, Michael, he teamed up with AIDS awareness organizations to promote safe sex and raise money for disease prevention efforts.
Back then, Lifestyles was primarily a condom shop. Today, it is a sex superstore with X-rated videos, sex toys, sex books, fetish wear, and gifts, all displayed in a brightly lighted 6,square-foot space. His efforts are raising the store's profile, generating both positive and negative reactions. Since Naomi Stone got involved in the business three years ago and took over the day-to-day operations last year, she has accelerated the couples-friendliness emphasis. Lifestyles has drawn comparisons to Grand Opening in Brookline, a couples-focused sex boutique that opened the same year as Lifestyles in a much smaller space.
Ten years ago, she said, the vast majority of Lifestyles' customers were heterosexual men from age 18 -- the legal minimum -- to 50, who shopped alone.
Now, she estimates, about half of the customers are women or couples. While the Stones -- who have three children -- say they will continue reaching out to heterosexual women and couples, they are also trying to attract people with alternative tastes. Recently, they reopened an anteroom with their most alternative movie titles transgender, fetish, bondage and hired staff for their familiarity with unconventional lifestyles.
Last night's session was titled ''Tantra and Sacred Sexuality. Stone sees himself ''catering to the needs" of the community: He sees Americans growing more open and permissive about sex. When Lifestyles opened in July , then-Mayor William Stanley, city councilors, and religious groups joined in protest. They argued that Lifestyles, then the third sex shop on Moody Street, threatened to turn the area into a Combat Zone, attracting an undesirable crowd and impeding efforts to revitalize downtown.
At the time, Stone commented that the publicity, no matter what its tenor, only boosted his bottom line. Now, as Lifestyles raises its profile with the sexuality workshops, it is again drawing fire, at least from one city official. Collura complained to the Daily News Tribune after it ran an unpaid listing announcing the workshop. Vivienne Kramer, chairwoman of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, lamented that laws throughout the country fail to make a distinction between assault and the make-believe assault of consensual bondage and sado-masochism.
Sarah Thompson, president of the Tiffany Club, a Waltham-based transgender and transvestite advocacy group, said she knew at age 4 that she was a girl trapped in a boy's body. Until her sex change operation in , Thompson said she paid a steep price for trying to act male. She said she married twice, fathered four children, tried to kill herself four times, turned to alcohol along the way, and during one period took a cocktail of drugs that her doctor promised would ''cure" her.
Another panelist, erotic writer Cecilia Tan, said in an e-mail that Lifestyles is promoting a healthy brand of sexuality. Its inventory also includes shelves lined with videos such as the ''Girls Gone Wild," ''Dirty Debutantes," and ''Taboo" series.
Andrew Rapp, another panelist, who is editor of Bay Windows, a Boston-area gay newspaper, called Lifestyles ''a pocket of liberty" in an otherwise sexually closeted society. At an alternative lifestyle newspaper in North Carolina where he worked, Rapp said, 75 percent of the distribution was through adult bookstores. Lifestyles has always been a family business.
Gary, now 36, and Naomi, 31, met when she was a waitress in a restaurant above Lifestyles. At the time, Gary was working in MovieLand, a general-interest video store that his father, Eliot, owned. When Gary became general manager, he realized that the X-rated movies were the only videos making money; he decided to close MovieLand and open Lifestyles. Eliot Stone still owns the building, which also houses the Asian Grill restaurant and a Haitian church.
For years, Naomi Stone was too busy raising their children -- now 9, 7, and 4 -- to participate in the business. Then, after her third child was born, she began clerking at the store, gradually taking more control to the point now where her husband rarely stops in. The couple say they are discreet about the business when it comes to their children. His wife, who says she has been dismayed to see sex toys on display at a gift store in a local mall, also makes it a point to shield the children.
Joshua Myerov can be reached at myerovjosh yahoo.