As downtown shops go, it’s a bit of an anomaly. But owner Lisa Ziemer sees her new Battery Park Avenue business, Va Va Vooom, filling an important need for Asheville women.
The store, which held a two-month-long “soft opening” before its grand opening on Dec. 5, sells all manner of intimate apparel, not to mention erotic books and manuals, massage oils and toys (including a line of vibrators that sync to your iPod). Inside the store, the walls are lined with “softly erotic” art, mostly black-and-white photos shot by Ziemer’s business partner, Brian Kirk. The shop also plans to solicit other erotic artists for revolving shows, Ziemer reports.
But this is not remotely like your typical sex shop (or lingerie shop, for that matter). In fact, it’s unlike any other store in the area, Ziemer contends.
“I always thought a store like this was needed,” she says. “It’s opening a niche. … I’m really interested in a sex-positive and body-positive shop. It’s not just a lingerie shop: We have books on sex and toys. It’s a shop that promotes the healthy enjoyment of sexuality but in a way that’s comfortable for women. This is all about embracing your body and your sexuality in a positive, comfortable way.
“That’s more of a West Coast model,” continues the Marin County, Calif., native, who’s called Asheville home for the past decade. “You have nice lingerie, you have nice books, you have a comfortable atmosphere. It’s well-lit and well-done. This is the first time that I know of that Asheville has had this sort of thing.”
The Ineffable Woman (which has since closed) tried a similar model, she adds, but lacked the array of lingerie and other intimate apparel that makes Va Va Vooom stand out.
Ziemer wants the store to be known for being fun, sexy and comfortable—the latter explaining why shoppers won’t see much of Kirk in the shop.
“I try to stay out of here during the day, just because it’s more comfortable for our clients—instead of having the big, creepy guy behind the desk,” Kirk deadpans.
Business model aside, the store also stands out because it’s breaking the cardinal rule that says don’t open a new business during a recession. But even with the retail sector in a tailspin, Ziemer says things look strong. It doesn’t hurt that she has a solid business background as a CPA and prior experience running her own business, albeit in the home-care industry.
Kirk adds that the store is leagues ahead of where it should be as a startup, according to all the books on retail business the two have read.
“We’re not supposed to be at the point we’re at, according to the books, for another two years,” notes Kirk. “We’re up, we’ve had our opening, we’re doing well, we’re well-stocked, we have our name out there, people are coming in. People talk about not being successful until you’ve hit, like, three years or whatever. Forget that.”
“It’s going well so far, considering we just started advertising and had our signage put up,” says Ziemer. “Our walk-by business has been very good.”
And while the store’s racy window display makes it stand out on otherwise staid Battery Park Avenue, Ziemer notes that response has been positive.
“It’s been great,” she reports. “I’d say it’s been 90 percent positive, 5 percent ‘Uh, I don’t know about this,’ and 5 percent ‘Oh, this is disgusting!’”
And while most of the customers are women, a fair number of men also come in, whether shopping for their significant others or themselves (the store also carries men’s silk boxers, briefs and robes).
Lingerie is the main item at Va Va Vooom, and the store is packed with all manner of it, from the fun items (“what the men like,” says Ziemer) to sophisticated luxury items such as imported bra-and-pantie sets. And while the window display might cause plus-size women to balk, Ziemer and Kirk proudly carry sizes to fit them as well.
“That’s really important to me—body acceptance and sexuality acceptance,” says Ziemer, who likes to point out one of Kirk’s most beguiling photos, consisting of a lounging, plus-size woman who looks stunning—and comfortable with herself—despite her weight.
“She’s probably 300 pounds, but it’s just a beautiful shot,” says Ziemer. “These standards that are socially set right now, we just want to move beyond that and urge women to do that.”
“Lingerie doesn’t stop at 34B,” Kirk asserts. Sizes at Va Va Vooom range from extra small to XXXL. And even the larger bra sizes (typically D-cups and higher) are as beautiful as those for smaller women, adds Ziemer. To ensure a perfect fit, the store also features a fitting room.
While bras and other lingerie are hot items, Kirk is also proud of the store’s legwear line, which he says is incredibly popular with Asheville women. “We have such a selection that no one else can touch,” he boasts (about 200 different pieces, adds Ziemer).
Nice lingerie can be pricey, but Kirk says the business has tried to keep most everything affordable.
“When we started up, we figured that four months from now they’d tell us we’re in a recession and that we’ve been in it for a year, so we need to keep a lower price point,” he notes. “A lot of the sets are $50 or under.”
“Pretty much everything is under $100,” Ziemer says.
For now, the two say they’re content to just go with the flow, rather than focusing on the future, though Ziemer says customers can look forward to an even more extensive bra selection in the future.
“That’s a real intimate item women all need and complain about, because bras either don’t fit well or it’s hard to find good bras,” she says. “And we’re not going to be doing industrial bras but the real pretty things.”
There are also plans to host sexuality workshops led by a local sexologist, along the lines of what The Ineffable Woman used to do, Ziemer reports. “A lot of people here don’t really have accurate information about their sexuality or other people’s sexuality,” she says. Ineffable Woman owner Angela Montgomery, adds Ziemer, “was really making remarkable headway with that: gender issues, sexual issues, older women who have never had an orgasm and didn’t know how, and so forth. She was really, really sex-positive and it was fabulous, so we want to do that same type of thing—in addition to selling the pretty things.”
Va Va Vooom is located at 36 Battery Park Avenue downtown. The store’s Web site (still under construction) is www.vavavooom.com.
• Expanding the band: Progress Energy and ERC Broadband, an arm of the Education and Research Consortium of the Western Carolinas, have partnered to build a new fiber-optic-cable route to serve the Asheville area’s growing technology needs while improving Progress Energy’s internal operations. The 12.5-mile route will run from Biltmore Village to the utility’s power plant on Lake Julian in Skyland.
The cable is part of a larger network developed by the consortium, a nonprofit agency founded in 1997 to ramp up the region’s technological infrastructure. In collaboration with public, private and nonprofit interests, the ERC is working to expand broadband service, particularly in rural areas.
Largely following existing Progress Energy easements, the new line will also enhance high-speed Internet service in the city. The project also supports a push by the utility to upgrade communication services among its local facilities, increasing operational efficiency throughout the region, the company notes.
By increasing residents’ access to information and technology, project partners hope the network will become a catalyst for enhanced educational programs, health care, economic-development opportunities, cultural programs and overall improvements in quality of life.
Installation has already begun, and Progress Energy expects to complete the project early next year.