How 3 friends created a sex shop inside a BK laundromat

Troll Hole: no ordinary sex shop. Photo by Janine Ciccone

Troll Hole: no ordinary sex shop. Credit: Janine Ciccone

If you live in Bushwick, have done laundry in the past six months, believe in sex positivity, and enjoy reading smut, then you’ve probably heard of Troll Hole, the intersectional-feminist queer space and zine/sex shop located inside La Blanquita Laundromat (formerly Mermaid Laundromat) at 226 Knickerbocker Avenue.

Troll Hole isn’t your stereotypical sex shop, and that is not solely because it’s surrounded by washers and dryers. The shelves are stocked with erotic zines like Softies and Hand Job, feminist anthologiesclassic collections of iconic sex writing (think Spread Magazine) as well as affordable vibrators, bondage, glow-in-the-dark lube, and decorative pins with sayings like: No Bras, No Masters. They’ve also got free tampons and pads. The entrance is lined with streamers and a shop dog, Frances, welcomes customers as they enter.

From the coverage that Troll Hole has gotten in Brooklyn blogs, to the founders’ frequent attendance at zine fests around the neighborhood, it might seem as if the colorful store had simply popped up and found success overnight. But like most things that seem effortless, it wasn’t. How’d they create that cool job? 

Troll Hole was created by a small group of friends: Monica Yi, Justin Shock and Hayley Blatte. The group wanted to create a sex shop that everyone felt comfortable in, a safe space to feel kinky.

“It slowly came about organically,” Yi told us, “through talking about sex stores in Brooklyn and the lack of queer spaces in general.”

 

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Troll Hole, as seen from the outside. Credit: Janine Ciccone

Troll Hole, as seen from the outside. Credit: Janine Ciccone

The idea may have been organic, but putting it into practice was another story entirely. Blatt clarified:

“Of course at first we were like can we do this? Is this even possible? We really didn’t want to borrow money from a bank or have credit cards or investors. We wanted to grow as we could, rather than take loans out and risk owing people money.”

And so the decision was made to find an affordable space in Bushwick where the group could manage their own affairs. Of course, finding a retail space in Brooklyn with a tight budget isn’t much easier than finding an apartment. The three began looking into shared spaces. One day, Yi walked by Mermaid Laundromat and saw a “For Rent” sign.

“It was very little overhead and they allowed us to build this small wall to close off the alcove,” Blatte explained. “It’s great to be in a place that is shared, it’s a total mixed bag. You never know who you’re going to talk to.”

I arrive at 9pm on a Wednesday. La Blanquita was pretty crowded with, unsurprisingly, people doing their laundry. Next door, Troll Hole’s festive Halloween decorations in the store window are inviting and don’t seem out of place. People strolled in and out of the sex shop casually, looking at the zines and illustrated books of BDSM.

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A unique job position. Photo by Jeremy Velasco

Jeromy Velasco’s ‘Pig, Pup, Pose’ zine. Photo by Janine Ciccone

“We wanted to focus on sex positivity, the work of women of color and the LGBTQ community,” Yi said.

Shock added, “When we first started talking about creating the shop, things were different in the country. We were like: let’s do something super fun, this cool sexy cheeky thing. And by the time we got the space, it was like political event after political event, which changed the shape of it. We’re [now] very focused on carrying works by artists and writers whose voices are underrepresented. ”

Each founding member of Troll Hole works other jobs on top of running the store: Yi as a graphic designer and art director, Shock in vintage retail, and Hayley as a software consultant. Given their respective areas of expertise relating to aesthetics and content curation, Troll Hole’s inventory became the group’s creative playground.

“The more we gathered things that we wanted, the more we realized a lot of it was printed,” Yi said. “We try play with our own strengths. And the printed matter [is always] rotating, which I think is good because that means our inventory is changing with whatever is current.”

Troll Hole only opened its festive doors back in April, but has already begun to evolve into a hybrid of part-collective-part-store, and its future is looking even brighter than its purple painted walls. The founders attend many events around Brooklyn and collaborate with outside groups to provide a consciousness-raising class inside their small space.

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You don't have to pay a troll toll to get into the troll hole. Photo by Janine Ciccone

You don’t have to pay a troll toll to get into the troll hole. Photo by Janine Ciccone

“We’ve met people who have helped us create a network,” Yi said, “We’ve met a lot of people through Aurora Diaz from The Bettys. Meeting other collectives and zine creators helps us form a community. Especially women of color, groups like La Liga and Purple Pony. All their support has really given us a lot.”

In the future, Yi, Blatte and Shock hope that Troll Hole will continue to grow into a collective community and host sex-positive education events.

“We’d like to facilitate some sort of series of workshops, that have a sex-ed but also healing element to them,” Yi said. “We just need to confirm a space where we can hold it, one that’s more private and larger than this store.”

For now,  Troll Hole continues to be a unique, colorful space that attracts a wide variety of neighbors and Brooklynites who mightn’t otherwise set foot inside a sex store.

“A lot of times people will be like, ‘I’ve seen this a million times when I do my laundry but have never come in, it’s really cool!’” Shock told us. “That’s always great when that happens. But like for every two of those people, there’s one ‘What’s going on here? Can I leave my laundry bags with you?’”

Troll Hole is located at 226 Knickerbocker Avenue. You can do your laundry at La Blanquita 24-7 and stop by Troll Hole without leaving your bags from Tuesday-Sunday 1pm-10pm, but their times can vary so be sure to check their Instagram: @trollholenyc.

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