(Note: This story appears in the June 2021 issue of Storerotica Magazine)
Adult store Hubba Hubba straddles an enlightened suburb of Boston.
Home to such famed educational institutions like Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts is regarded as one of the brainiest locales in the US.
It might also be the kinkiest. Adult retail store Hubba Hubba — not even a 10-minute walk from the Harvard Book Store — was founded in 1979 by Suzi Phelps originally as a punk store. According to present owner MJ Pullins, Hubba Hubba was the first store in Boston to carry Doc Martens, the shoe synonymous with various subcultures at the time importing them directly from London.
“In fact, we still sell the studs from the punk days if you want to trick out your jacket,” says Pullins, who continues Hubba Hubba’s tradition of being female-owned.
STOREROTICA Magazine spoke with Pullins about how she took over Hubba Hubba, how the store transitioned from punk store to adult store and how the store is received in Cambridge.
SE: What led to you taking over Hubba Hubba? Had you been involved with adult retail prior to Hubba Hubba?
PULLINS: Suzi was the doyenne of Cambridge. She passed away in November 2017. Her sister took over the estate and I purchased the store from her, finalizing the sale on Jan. 1, 2019. I actually have no experience in adult retail, however, I started reading Women’s Wear Daily when I was 7 years old and working in a consignment shop—pricing, tagging and display clothes at that same age. I have about 15 years of retail experience. I have worked as a marketing director in home goods, corporate aircraft, education, and museums, and even worked as a consultant designing retail displays for box stores. And I lived with a top biologist for 25 years. So by osmosis, I know a lot about human anatomy and function, which is great for selling in a college town.
SE: How did the transition from vintage/punk store to sex positive adult store happen?
PULLINS: The store has moved five times in Cambridge. Its longest stay was in Central Square, around the corner from a nightclub in the ‘80s and ‘90s called Manray. Manray was an industrial/goth club. Hubba began to carry clothes and goods for that crowd. When Manray started having BDSM nights, Hubba began to carry BDSM gear. The store expanded its selection from there. Hubba has always continued to grow and change with the alternative community in order to best serve its needs.
SE: What is it like to operate an adult shop in a college town?
PULLINS: Surprisingly, most of our customers are middle-aged adults. Even though we are a few blocks from Harvard, most college students don’t really know about us or don’t actually understand the value of toys. I am seeing a small change in education however in the younger generation especially as people become more gender-fluid.
“Even though we are a few blocks from Harvard, most college students don’t really know about us or don’t actually understand the value of toys. I am seeing a small change in education however in the younger generation especially as people become more gender-fluid.” — MJ Pullins
SE: It probably helps to have been around since ’79, but how do you feel Hubba Hubba is accepted in Cambridge?
PULLINS: There is nothing better in the world than to be a sex-positive store in Cambridge, Massachusetts! I often use my window display as a soap box for my political opinions and the store to further some of my beliefs (i.e. using a percentage of sales to go to Planned Parenthood or a window display celebrating the life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg).
SE: Have you been wholly online since COVID forced your closure?
PULLINS: Massachusetts closed non-essential business in the late winter of 2020 (which I am). We were allowed to open back up again in April. I took the great risk to close the store in mid-January 2021 when the COVID numbers where beyond untenable, sales were ridiculously low, and customer compliance was low. I am taking this time to expand the store and come back bigger and better. Until we really understand what is happening with the variants, I am also trying to protect my employees, my partner who is indigenous, and my customer base who is a majority of people of color. The store is in a basement and lacks real air circulation.
SE: What’s the most popular product or product category at Hubba Hubba?
PULLINS: Dildos! With the pandemic, I have had to hoard dildos anytime I can get a hold of them. I often share that with my customers, and they find that the funniest thing in the world: hoarding dildos.
SE: How would you describe the atmosphere at Hubba Hubba?
PULLINS: The former owner Suzi had a saying, “Go forth and be fabulous!” At Hubba, our goal is to make everyone, no matter what color, sexual orientation, creed, etc., feel beautiful and accepted. We believe in education first. I come from a heavy scientific background so we use anatomy drawings and the latest research to help fit people with the most appropriate products. People feel safe. I often have customers remark how comfortable they feel asking questions that they never imagined themselves being able to talk about. This is why we are here.