The owners of the new Love Revolution store in the heart of downtown Ashland emphasize that their wares — massage tools, sensual art, oils, bath-and-body products, sex toys — are for the deepening of intimacy between caring partners.

The owners of the new Love Revolution store in the heart of downtown Ashland emphasize that their wares — massage tools, sensual art, oils, bath-and-body products, sex toys — are for the deepening of intimacy between caring partners. But at least one nearby shop owner calls what may be the town's first sex-oriented shop "inappropriate" for the touristy East Main Street.

The shop, created by life partners Brenda Johnson and Mitchell Walzer, opened Friday downstairs in the former Allyson's of Ashland, next door to Paddington Station, and is not visible from the sidewalk. A colorful display of paintings, sculptures and sensual gift items greet customers, with sex toys out of sight behind a neck-high wall, where only adults may go.

"The store came out of the inspiration of our own relationship, in which we've grown in love so much," said Walzer. "We wanted it to be disarming, beautiful, inviting, something that would bring people closer together. Sex is a big part of relationships and, for relationships to work and grow, it should be playful and juicy."

Johnson adds that a healthy approach to sexuality in a relationship "brings people closer together, so they experience more joy. There's a lot of interest in sacred sexuality and tantra here, and it makes for a good relationship. Ashland is ready for it."

The couple, both in their 40s, say the hard part was finding a landlord to lease to them.

"All over town they were afraid to rent and risk something different — wouldn't even look at our business plan," Walzer said.

But Brent Thompson did.

The owner of the building said the shop is "a viable concept for Ashland, based on people's need for love, romance, intimacy and friendship."

Thompson said he expects the shop to be "suitable and tasteful, not exploitative and shallow." The lease specifies that it "not offend the general public" as determined by complaints.

A few doors down, Sandi Globus, owner of Fabric of Vision, opposes the new shop, however.

"That type of store is inappropriate in this location. It reflects on this block and on the school buses making trips to Shakespeare," Globus said.

Lenny Goldberg, owner of CD or Not CD down the street, said: "I believe in free enterprise. This is Ashland. I don't perceive there will be any increase in crime here, if it's a tasteful adult store. They'll soon find out if there's a market for it."

Kirk McAllister, owner of nearby Horsefeathers of Ashland, said, "I don't have a problem with it, as long as it's oriented as a gallery and not a sex shop."

Walzer and Johnson said they're trying to frame the store under the heading of "arts and gifts for love." In the adults-only part of the store, they do sell dildos, vibrators, handcuffs, blindfolds and DVDs that explain how to use them all.

The dildos, once called "marital aids," can be stylishly high-end and high-tech, costing $35 to more than $100. Lubricants are organic and free of chemical toxins, Johnson said, adding that all tools, books, art and videos are humane and "joyful" and don't show anyone being exploited or hurt.

The shop's plentiful wall art and sculptures are from local artists, who flooded them with their wares and complained they can't show sensual art in any gallery in town.

"There's no venue in Ashland that exhibits erotic art — and this art is very beautiful," said Denise Baxter, executive director of Ashland Art Center, two blocks away.

"Mitchell and Brenda are a lovely couple with really great intentions. I support them and expect there will be acceptance of them. Sexuality is part of it (the shop), but it's about intimacy, really. Sensuality is part of who we are and sex is part of that."

Recalling the controversy and boycott that greeted the opening of a Castle Superstore in Medford more than a dozen years ago, Thompson said, "That was a sex store. ... I wouldn't rent this space if I weren't convinced this business was about love, loyalty and companionship and what keeps the spark in a loving relationship — not stuff that's exploitative and shallow. In this town, it has to be tasteful — and that's what it is."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.