There's a warehouse full of sex toys in AsiaTown. Just past CSU, nestled among the one-way streets and pockmarked lots of the Near East Side, an adult empire and its brassy empress do their daily business. And here she is, Rondee Kamins, CEO of AdultMart. She emerges in Uggs and a knit tunic with her iPhone (but not her Starbucks cup) bedazzled in purple stones. She's blond and warm and vivacious. She has that rouged and ruffled quality of the approachable starlet. She is, by a wide margin, the most powerful woman in Cleveland porn.
SA: Ms. Kamins. I'm Sam from Scene.
Rondee Kamins: What are you, 18? How old are you?.
I'm...what? I'm 25.
RK: You know what we've got back here, right? [Meaning, presumably, the warehouse full of sex toys and porn.]
You wanna see it?.
I'd be delighted. Maybe you could tell me a little bit about yourself, as we browse?
My name is Rondee Kamins, obviously.
Because you're young—you look young—I'll just give you the porn history of Cleveland. Can I do that?
This is where the whole adult industry started, right here in Cleveland. And if you go out to any of the major companies in California, they all have ties to Cleveland. Either they're from Cleveland, or their father or somebody was here.
I had no idea.
All started in 1958 by a gentleman named Reuben Sturman. And my father [industry luminary Hal Kamins] started working for him when he was 15. And he kind of grew with the company. At that time, "girlie magazines" was what it was, and ultimately he became the general manager, and bought the company in 1986.
And for clarification, when you say 'the company'?
I mean GVA-TWN [General Video of America—Trans World News]. That's the distribution warehouse, internet fulfillment and the stores. AdultMart is the retail arm.I've been working here since I was 18 years old, so I've been here 30 years, and I bought it 12 years ago.
Anything in particular that's marked your tenure?
Well, 15-20 years ago, the adult business was more of the 'raincoat crowd.' And we've done a lot to make our stores more inviting for women. Softening the store up, softening the colors. It's more of a boutique shopping experience.
Business is aimed at women, then?
Well, it's for everybody. Our customers are a very diverse group of people, and though females may be the group that's growing the most, everybody shops at our stores: male, female, whatever your sexual orientation. We've got toys for every fantasy. We're all about selling fantasies to people, and I think our products are reflective of that.
Our bestselling item is lube—everyone needs lube—and the JO H2O is our bestseller. Couples-wise, our number one selling toy is the We-Vibe. [Vibrator for two!] Actually we're selling a lot of the We-Vibe 3, which has a wireless remote control. Fifty Shades has popularized a lot of things like BenWa balls, which are Kagel exercisers, blindfolds and floggers, so we've been doing well with those for the past year, year-and-a-half.
Fifty made it more acceptable for the typical "soccer mom" to come into our stores and purchase items in the book, things that they want to try. I think it also did a lot to bring light S&M into the forefront, even though that always was a category we did fairly well in, it made it more mainstream. We've got displays in a lot of our stores with the items right from the book.
I'm embarrassed to say I've never read it.
Oh, me neither. I just got the Cliff's Notes version.
Say I'm a customer and I watch all my porn on RedTube or something.
You came up with that scenario pretty fast.
I'm talking in theory, how would you sell me on having a physical DVD?
You're actually getting the whole movie, for one. A lot of times what you get on those Tube-sites is a scene here or a scene there. And a lot of people don't want it on the computer. With a DVD, you can watch it on your TV, computer, laptop, but it's not sitting on there all the time. It's not taking up hard drive space and your girlfriend, spouse or kids might not happen upon it. We still sell a lot of DVDs, a lot of couples movies. Nice storylines. They're more romantic. And a lot of these movies are made by women.
Hate to be insensitive, but do you find that you run into any hurdles as a woman in this industry?
I think there's hurdles in any industry and I think I encounter a lot of the same ones. I think the biggest hurdle is not being a woman, but being in a business that people consider taboo. Nobody's gonna go out and stand up for the adult industry. It's easy to stand up for issues that you feel strongly about but no matter how strongly you feel about something in the adult industry, still people will get labeled. It's definitely become more acceptable. But even though people may think everybody's so liberal, they're really not. They all wanna make money from it, but no one wants to stand up for it. Or even if they're not opposed, someone on the board is against it. Or they're overtly against it because they're doing really weird things at home.
Speaking of weird things at home, any product recommendations for Valentine's Day?
The easy product to recommend is the We-Vibe 3. It's a nice couples toy. Get some JO H2O, pick up a nice fantasy DVD, some lingerie, and you have your whole evening. You could even get some massage oil too, if you wanted. We have candles that when you burn them it turns into massage oil. Go into the store. A lot of people go in with skepticism, but I think you'll see it with new eyes. And you will not find a greater group of sales associates anywhere. If you have a question, they'll know how to answer it.
I'd have nothing but questions. Any insider's advice you can pass along, since I've got you here?
You can't put silicon lube on a silicon dildo...it'll disintegrate. The silicones react to each other so you have to use a water-based lube.
That's...that's extremely good to know.