A Conversation with Sid Azmi, a resident of Park Slope, and the owner of please, an educated Pleasure Shop.
It’s an Fall afternoon in Park Slope and pleasure boutique Please sits perched on the corner in a swirl of sunny windows, glass tables, and exposed brick. A song spills out of the speakers as a man wanders in and owner Sid Azmi leaps up to assist him. He needs something specific for his girlfriend; they don’t carry it, but could she suggest something similar? He asks how much, already keen to purchase it, but she advises him to talk to his partner again first. As he steps back out onto the street, she waves goodbye and wishes him the best. To Azmi, people are more important than the sale. The items she sells just happen to include vibrators.
Azmi is open with her gestures and smiles, as well as her story. “I grew up in Singapore and moved here when I was 19. I was basically running away from home,” said Azmi. After moving to the United States to attend Suffolk University in Boston, she became a radiation therapist and worked intimately with cancer patients. “I worked with a lot of patients who were diagnosed with urological-based cancers like prostate cancer,” Azmi reflected. She noticed that even while people were surviving their cancer, the quality of their sex lives were rarely discussed. Her patients grappled with vulnerable issues as certain sexual experiences dramatically changed or vanished completely. And while they faced these problems, no platform existed on which to discuss it. “The medical world is so straight-laced,” said Azmi. “Anything that was sexual was considered taboo.” As a chief therapist, Azmi found herself wanting to open a small business and provide a comfortable space for people to discuss and improve their sex lives without limitations. “The changing of how people think about sex has always been in my life as a conversation piece,” said Azmi. “So how do we put that into a business form? We put it into a store that symbolizes that. The store is not just a financial endeavor, it’s more of a social mission that we carry.” For many, the idea of shopping for a pleasure item is unthinkable. Some still have trouble looking their local bodega owner in the eye when buying condoms, let alone purchasing a sex toy. Azmi wanted to create a space that was “transparent, open, and welcoming” while also hoping to reframe the way people think about stores like hers. For those who were confused or uneasy about broaching the topic of sexual pleasure, Azmi found that most were often scared of what they didn’t fully understand. As she educated others, she believed the best way of achieving a productive discussion was meeting them halfway with patience and humor. “Sex is one of our main driving forces, and we don’t talk about it,” asserted Azmi. She hoped to embolden people in her community to not only re-acquaint themselves with what brings them pleasure, but ask for it without guilt or fear of stigma. Azmi believes that there’s more to sex than just the act itself. “Sex enables us to be assertive and confident. It contributes to wellness, exercise, and mental stimulation. When you are happy internally, that joy perpetuates outward.” Azmi went on to explain her pride in owning a business in Park Slope and admitted that while small businesses generate less revenue financially and meet greater barriers, she enjoys the experience of serving her neighbors. “We are heavily dependant on our community,” Azmi stressed. “In the long run, learning to have a relationship with your community is a very important aspect of any business. People don’t buy things just because they really want them; they buy things also because they like you. I think the second part is what keeps a business open longer.” And even with simple likability proving hugely beneficial in attracting patrons, Azmi hopes that it goes deeper than that. “I think that when people can identify with something – whether it’s the products, or the mission, or the people working in there – they’re more proud to be in those communities,” Azmi beamed. “I’m proud to be in this community because my store exists. Even if it wasn’t my store, it would make me think, ‘Oh, my neighborhood is cool!’”