Grow or Die?  213
“I’m glad they aren’t going under,” one feminist retailer told me, “but it
must be so much harder to be a radical business under the umbrella of a main-
stream powerhouse.”3
What it means to “be a radical business” had also changed dramatically in
the years since Good Vibrations’ founding. When Joani Blank started Good
Vibrations in 1977, and in the years that followed, the idea of competition,
at least in any traditional sense, wasn’t a concern. Blank’s approach to run-
ning Good Vibrations, as I’ve discussed in earlier chapters, was intensely non-
competitive, and she freely shared information about the company’s finances,
vendor lists, and educational mission with entrepreneurs interested in open-
ing stores of their own. But even if Blank had been a more traditional busi-
nessperson concerned about competitors cutting into the company’s profit
margins, the reality of the sexual marketplace in the 1970s and 1980s was such
that Good Vibrations was essentially a unicorn. Its women-­friendly and edu-
cational focus was so unique that Good Vibrations faced little to no direct
competition from other retailers—and it remained that way for years.
By the time Searah Deysach decided to open Early to Bed in Chicago in the
early 2000s, the tenor of the marketplace, even among feminist businesses,
had changed dramatically. Armed with the knowledge that Good Vibrations
had previously helped retailers Babeland and Grand Opening get their busi-
nesses off the ground, Deysach approached the company about the possibility
of doing a similar internship to learn the ropes of running her own sex-­positive
store. “They just shot me down,” she told me. “They said, ‘We just cannot do
that.’” Her takeaway? “This is not a friendly family of feminist stores.”4
Perhaps Deysach’s experience would have been different five years earlier,
but by the start of the new millennium, retailers everywhere were expand-
ing their operations and going online, which changed the way many busi-
nesses—including many feminist sex-­ t oy stores—thought about competition.
It was no longer the case that individual companies were bound by geography,
with Good Vibrations commanding the lion’s share of the market in the Bay
Area, Babeland carving out profitable niches in Seattle and New York City,
and Grand Opening serving the needs of the greater Boston area. Now these
businesses were all competing for the same online customers located in geo-
graphically disparate places like rural Iowa and small-­ t own Oklahoma. It was a
whole new retail landscape, and information that had once been freely shared
by Good Vibrations was now cast as trade secrets that needed to be protected
so the company could keep an economic edge in an increasingly competitive
marketplace—which, ironically, it had helped create. The era of sharing in-
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