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MARKET: Rubber Maid Dallas 2006 -

Not long ago, a young newlywed couple came into Sara Lee Goff?s Plano store looking for the first piece of furniture for their new apartment. They needed a couch, and Goff had just the thing?a large, softly curved number, more a huge cushion than a sofa, but its ergonomic design was exactly what they were looking for. It was just made for screwing.

No, really. That?s literally what it was made for; its S-shaped curves provide back?or maybe front and sideways?support for the different positions so loved by limber young couples. Ring up another sale and another (presumably) satisfied customer for Goff?s Condoms to Go. Here?s hoping the couple?s marriage outlasts their furniture. (While we?re at it, let?s hope they?ve heard of Scotchgard. Eww.) What they may lack in taste, they appear to make up for in enthusiasm.

Taste, hope, satisfaction, comfort and sex: It?s all part of the ?romance business? for the diminutive Goff, a 60-something grandmother who left a career in landscaping design to open her first shop for sexy Dallasites in 1992. Since then, her chain of prophylactic, lube and ?novelty? shops has grown to a chain of stores, the latest called Sara?s Secret, a name she adopted to avoid a repeat of run-ins she has had with religious folk who would rather not see the word ?condoms? glowing in red neon letters on suburban storefronts. It?s the same merchandise, minus the picketing, the protesters writing down her customers? license plate numbers and the visits from local cops. Well, cops still visit?in fact, Goff says she works closely with local police chiefs to allay any community worries?but they come in as customers these days.

?If I went in under Condoms to Go, I guarantee you they?d be picketing me,? Goff says of the new name.

Of course, that which we call a dildo would, by any other name, get you off, but some people would just as soon not know that. In a way, you can include Goff among their number. Since it?s illegal in Texas to sell anything intended to stimulate the genitals, don?t go into a Condoms to Go store and ask the clerk for a vibrator?in the same way you don?t go into your local head shop looking for a bong. Condoms to Go doesn?t stock dildos. They do have a wide, multihued variety of ?novelties,? which sometimes just happen to be shaped like big penises.

Battery-powered penises. That vibrate.

?I just sell them,? Goff says. ?I don?t ask them what they use them for.?

Ah, Texas. It may be 2006 in other parts of the world?Europe, say, or New York. Here, we?re still creeping up on the new century, sexually speaking. Not that it?s slowed down Goff?s business any. Two years ago Condoms to Go was named one of the top 100 fastest-growing businesses in DFW by SMU?s Cox School of Business.

Heh-heh. We said Cox.

Sorry. Went all Beavis on you there for a moment. Where were we?

Time was, to find a selection of condoms, you?d have to go to the men?s room at a bowling alley or filling station or risk embarrassment at your local drugstore. At Goff?s stores, you leave your blushes outside in the parking lot. She aims to make her shops as unsleazy as possible. She doesn?t sell porn, for instance, though if you buy enough other items, the clerk might toss in a racy DVD for free, to provide inspiration for the perspiration.

Goff?s own inspiration came from her son?sort of, and not like that, you sicky. She?d been divorced several years and had raised her two kids when she decided to re-enter the dating scene. This was the age of AIDS, however, and her college-age son had some advice. ?If you?re going to be promiscuous, you need to be safe,? he kidded her. Not long after came her first store on Greenville Avenue. Since then, it?s been a long, sometimes bumpy ride to create a place where customers can be comfortable shopping for lovemaking aids.

Comfort is key for Goff?s business plan. She carefully trains her staff about various products. She will sell to teens but only provided they first stop by with their parents, and she makes sure that some of the racier products don?t end up in window displays. That care helps explain why the majority of her customers are women?particularly in her suburban shops, where sometimes as much as 75 percent of her customers are female.

?They can go into any of my stores, and they feel comfortable, not like drugstores,? Goff says.

Oddly, it?s often men who get most embarrassed perusing the goods. They?ll eye a novelty but figure the missus won?t want anything to do with it, Goff says. ?They say, ?My wife would not like this...She wouldn?t let me bring this home. I?d be divorced.?? And often enough, the women come back to close the deal.

Who says housewives are desperate? ?Patrick Williams

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