“It’s really funny,” says Lauren Buckley in a hushed voice, before slipping out of Babeland with an inconspicuous silver paper bag tucked beneath her arm. While waiting in line to vote this morning in Fort Greene, Buckley’s sister had called from Prague to let her know that the Brooklyn sex toy store was handing out freebies for election day.
“I love that these people are getting behind the process,” she says. “Not that we need the incentive, but it’s additional fun.” More reward than incentive, most visitors seemed to have already cast their votes before noon, when the store opened. Averaging about a customer a minute within the first 25 minutes, store manager Mary Hoffer fretted about her rapidly diminishing supply of Mavericks and Silver Bullets.
“It’s been a lot bigger than we expected,” Hoffer says to a customer, as she happily hands him a navy blue textured sleeve for men, encased in a clear plastic box. The Maverick has been pleasuring Babeland customers long before McCain adopted the moniker. Although one customer saw the naming as unfortunate, even suggesting to Hoffer that the name be changed, Babeland decided to embrace the coincidence. “It was a good way to get involved,” Hoffer says. For women, Babeland is offering the Silver Bullet vibrator, one of their top sellers, and “good for beginners,” Hoffer adds.
Despite rumors of long lines at voting stations across Brooklyn, customers who had come from the booths were in celebratory spirits on this unseasonably warm November election day. Hailing from Prospect Heights to Bedford Stuyvesant, customers reported two-hour waits tempered by cupcakes, donuts, quiches, and patient volunteers. “There’s just so much positive energy,” Hoffer says. “It’s so surreal.”
Hoffer, proudly sporting an “Obama or Else” T-shirt, had voted before coming to work. She wasn’t bothered by the long lines. “People were so excited,” said Hoffer, who waited about an hour to cast her ballot. “I’m glad I voted in person.”
Not everyone had to contend with long lines, though. Nora Ramsey, 36, of Prospect Heights, had time to stop by Babeland between voting and heading off to work. Dressed in a white long-sleeve Obama ‘08 shirt, she’s “feeling confident we’ll get Obama in the White House.” Ramsey, who works for the ACLU, will also have her eye on a number of other initiatives. “Cross your fingers for Prop 8,” she quips, before lining up for her freebie. She’s hoping Proposition 8, an initiative on the California ballot to ban same-sex couples from marrying, will get shut down.
Though most customers aren’t shy about broadcasting their political leanings in the form of Obama T-shirts and pins, some approach Hoffer sheepishly to inquire about the giveaway. Two giddy young girls slip up to the store counter, fingering and examining the Maverick. “Oh, this is for the guy!” one exclaims, before wandering off to browse the colorful silicone and rubber products adorning the hot pink and glass shelves. Lucy Chang, a fund administrator from Sunset Park, sneaks into the store to pick up a Silver Bullet while a co-worker, who declined to give his name, waits outside.
“I’m not going into that place,” he declares loudly, gesturing toward the store from a safe distance away on the sidewalk.
“I don’t think it will make people vote,” Chang says of the freebies, but she believes “it raises more awareness that people don’t vote.” Word of Babeland’s giveaway spread quickly, with many customers learning about the promotion from emails forwarded by friends. At the store’s SoHo branch, about 50 people had lined up outside the shop before the 11 a.m. opening, Hoffer said.
“I read an email and came straight here,” says A. Hunter, who declined to give her first name. Hunter had already voted that morning in Crown Heights, lucking out with a short district line while those next to her had a longer wait ahead of them.
This is the first time the company, with stores in New York and Seattle, has offered freebies on election day, joining various businesses such as Starbucks and Krispy Kreme, which are giving out free cups of joe and patriotic donuts. “I’m going to a Starbucks in the city,” Buckley says. Chang’s co-worker, while refusing to step foot into Babeland, had tried the two Starbucks on Atlantic Avenue but was disappointed to find that neither was participating.
While Babeland’s giveaway didn’t seem to be making a dent in reminding voters of their civic duties–every customer Hoffer greeted with “Have you voted today?” responded in the affirmative–customers left with smiles on their faces and a sense of euphoria.
“It’s adding to the genuine atmosphere of optimism today,” one customer said. Sex and politics never went together so well.