In what owner Marshall Haywood calls a “proud Halifax tradition,” downtown sex-education store Venus Envy is getting renovicted from its current location. The Tramway Building on Barrington Street, home to Venus Envy since 1999, is being renovated, and even though it will remain commercial on the ground floor, Haywood feels squeezed.
“The plan for the building involved dropping the emergency stairwell down through Venus Envy’s space,” he says. “It’s not that big already and we’d already lost our upstairs office and storage space because of the renovation.”
The natural move was to find a new location. “We really wanted to stay downtown, because we've been on Barrington for so long. And we really love being downtown,” Haywood tells The Coast in a phone call. As luck would have it, shortly after beginning the hunt in February, Venus Envy found a spot at 1727 Barrington, just down the street.
The new storefront is an older building with about 1,000 square feet of space, a physically accessible washroom and basement offices. “It's exciting to have a bit of a fresh start, especially, hopefully as we come out of COVID,” says Haywood, who’s worked at the shop since 1999 and owned it since 2009. “I think we're looking forward to hopefully being able to host workshops and book launches and other events in person sometime soon.”
But relocating an entire shop full of books, sex toys and lube doesn’t come cheap or easy, so the queer- and trans-owned store created a GoFundMe to help with moving costs. “What we were asking was the bare minimum that we needed to make this move, and to get our website built—and that's all we need,” Haywood says.
A new website became a priority for Venus Envy during the pandemic, because currently income from online sales goes primarily to the Ottawa store of the same name. When Haywood bought the Halifax location, “the website sort of went along with the Ottawa store,” he says. At the time, mail order was relatively new and shipping expensive, but COVID has changed how people shop.
To order directly from Venus Envy in Halifax and support the local location, Haywood says customers can call or use other methods. “Pretty much any way that you could get in touch with us like phone, email, DMs,” he says. “We would try to be helpful and are very grateful to our customers who are loyal enough to take a couple extra steps to order from us.”
A website that funnels online orders straight to the Halifax shop would simplify things, but adding another cost weighed on Haywood as he thought about crowdfunding. “I was nervous,” he says. “I just wasn't sure about, as a for-profit business, asking for donations from the community.”
Finally, on Tuesday of this week, a construction-related flood in the shop caused Haywood to finally take a leap of faith: “It felt like the last straw and a swift kick from the universe saying ‘get out the door.’”
Though the store expected the fundraiser to last a few weeks, the Halifax community responded in mere hours. “We put it up Tuesday evening with the intention of waiting ‘til the morning to send it out in our newsletter,” says Haywood. “And by the morning I think we all woke up and looked at it and it had been fully funded overnight. And we’re like, ‘well, what are we gonna put in a newsletter?’”
Exceeding $21,000 in less than 12 hours, Venus Envy has now taken the page down. Haywood feels overwhelmed by the strong support. “I feel so grateful to be honest. It’s been a weepy week, in a really good way,” he says. “To put it out there and feel really lifted up and held by a community, it's really good.”
On Friday, Venus Envy began a moving sale of between 25 and 50 percent on most items, to prevent employees from having to move all the merchandise to the new location. “We’re hoping to sell a lot of stuff so we don't have to carry it. Books are heavy, and same with lube,” Haywood says, laughing.
The new Venus Envy will have its soft opening next Friday, July 2, but Haywood wants to plan something bigger for later in the summer once COVID-19 restrictions have lifted.
“Pride has always been one of our busiest times of year,” he says. “That’s always a really fun time of year for us, so I think that may be our grand opening. And hopefully by then our restrictions will be lifted so we can have a little party even.”
And Haywood is thinking of giving back to the community that has now given so much to him by reinstating the store’s old bursary fund. “It really did remind me that people do want to give and share. I think right now we've got enough on our plate for the next little bit. But the future, I will definitely be revisiting this, some of that charity fundraising,” he adds. “Because it’s a piece that fits really well what we do already.”