The billboard on Interstate 77 catches the eye, both for the blond in the French maid outfit as well as the incongruity of its location.
Towering over Mooresville, the advertisement for lingerie and sex toy store Adam & Eve casts its shadow over a conservative town in a conservative state.
Indeed, in Mooresville, where NASCAR and youth baseball reign, there’s been opposition to a developer who is trying to open a strip club, which would be the town’s first.
But the Adam & Eve, well, it’s aroused sales at some nearby businesses, which have welcomed the store.
“It’s definitely helped out business,” said Bethany Barber, manager at Joe Fish Casual Seafood, a few doors down from Adam & Eve.
Barber, for one, is glad the adult store is there. At least a dozen people have eaten at the restaurant — some from as far away as Kannapolis — after being drawn to the shopping center because they had a coupon for Adam & Eve.
The Mooresville Adam & Eve opened in July on River Highway, across the street from a Lowe’s. Far less conspicuous than the interstate billboard, the store, which also sells DVDs, games and lotions and oils, blends in with the others at Port Village Shopping Center.
It’s the 12th Adam & Eve store in North Carolina, in addition to ones in Gastonia and Concord. There are no Adam & Eve stores in Charlotte.
Shopping center’s traffic up
Businesses near the Adam & Eve say the store has helped to boost traffic at the shopping center.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind store here in Mooresville, and it gets more people driving through the parking lot, and they check out what else is in the shopping center,” said Laura Eanes, owner of Silly Scissors, a children’s hair salon a few doors down from Adam & Eve. “It probably actually helps business; I’m sure mothers shop there, too.”
She said she wouldn’t want to be right next to the business, but it doesn’t bother her that it’s in the same shopping center.
“After all, that’s (sex) how the kids get here in the first place,” she said.
Bruce Bradley, manager at Lake Norman Scuba, also in the shopping center, said early concerns about Adam & Eve hurting the center’s image have turned out to be unfounded.
“We haven’t noticed anything negative,” he said. “If anything, there’s more traffic flow in the shopping center now.”
Vinnie Centro, owner of Poppa’s Hot Dogs a few doors down from Adam & Eve, has good things to say about the store.
“It draws more people to the shopping center, so I don’t see any kind of negative impact,” he said. “I mean, who’s not interested in sex? Anyone that says they’re not is lying to you. And people that like sex have to eat, right?”
But not everyone in the shopping center is reporting higher sales thanks to the store. Such is the case for Jeffrey Sarment, owner of Sign-A-Rama, which is right next to Adam & Eve.
“It’s not like someone’s going to go over there and buy a vibrator and then say, ‘Oh, well, I guess I’ll get a sign while I’m here,'” Sarment said.
Watch that marketing, commissioner says
Although the nearby businesses appear to have embraced Adam & Eve, some elected officials have their worries.
Mooresville Commissioner Mac Herring said he doesn’t want the store’s advertising to be inappropriate for young audiences.
Herring has been one of the more vocal opponents of the proposed Mooresville strip club, pushing for tougher zoning regulations that increase the required buffer between the club and schools, churches and neighborhoods.
While he doesn’t lump Adam & Eve in the same category as a strip club, “it’s not the kind of business we’d prefer to have,” he said.
But he also points out that Adam & Eve has been an active member of the business community and that it joined the South Iredell Chamber of Commerce.
“The chamber even did a ribbon-cutting ceremony there, although there were some jokes about it being a garter-cutting ceremony,” he said.
Police: Crime not spiking
If there were any concerns that the Mooresville store would increase crime in the area, that doesn’t appear to the case, said Vicki Shafer, evidence division supervisor for the Mooresville Police Department.
There hasn’t been a noticeable spike in crime in the Port Village Shopping Center since Adam & Eve opened, Shafer said.
Of the 25 calls for service that came from the shopping center from July to May 11, none have been connected with Adam & Eve.
‘We’ve been very well-received’
The Mooresville store’s owner, Jesse Heath, would not comment for this story. But manager Eileen Dixon said she hasn’t encountered any pushback from the community or town officials.
“As a matter of fact, we’ve been very well-received,” she said. “People come in weekly and say they’re so happy we opened up.”
Dixon would not disclose how much revenue the Mooresville location has generated, saying only that since it opened sales have been brisk.
While Adam & Eve isn’t exactly recession-proof, sales have remained strong over the past few years, said Katy Zvolerin, director of public relations for the Hillsborough-based company.
“When the economy is hurting, people stay at home and enjoy our products a little bit more,” she said.
In 2003, the company, which has about 40 stores across the U.S., made $90 million in sales, compared with $113 million in 2009, she said, declining to release additional financial information.
No, it’s not a Bible store
While Herring is concerned about what images the store might display to shoppers as they pass by, some visitors to the shopping center apparently aren’t aware of what is sold at Adam & Eve.
Barber recalled one incident at Joe Fish Casual Seafood when members of the Red Hat Society, a social organization for women ages 50 and over, were dining at the restaurant. They wanted to know if Adam & Eve was a Bible store.
“We had to let them know what it really was and if they went in there they probably wouldn’t find any Bibles,” she said.
“But they were totally cool with it. It is 2011, after all.”
Sam Boykin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.