On The Fringe

Alternative Businesses Embrace Regulation and Scrutiny to Gain Legitimacy

By Heather Stewart | Photography by Jac Scott

June 6, 2013

Rated R in a PG Town

Killillay says he’s never had to deal with angry people wanting his store moved out of their community. Indeed, smoke shops and body art studios don’t seem to raise the hackles of anyone—at least not the way lingerie stores do.

A recent example is Pretty You Boutique, which opened in 2011 in Kaysville and quickly ran head-on into a storm of outrage over its (fairly tame) window display featuring bras and panties. Or Dr. John’s in Midvale, which periodically incites fresh ire (and free publicity) with racy billboards.

Tresa Ahlin has been in business for 23 years now in conservative Spanish Fork and has also faced blowback over the years. She recalls a time when a woman stood across the street from her shop, Dirty Jo Punsters, shouting that Ahlin was going to “go to hell” because of her window display. Or the time a new resident, a transplant from California, called the mayor to complain about the shop, saying she had moved to Spanish Fork to raise her family in a better environment.

“And the mayor said, ‘Well, you should have done your research. She’s been in business here for two decades. And you’ve only been here six months.’

“I have 101 stories just like that,” says Ahlin.

Over the years, people have circulated petitions to get her store shut down or to have her billboards removed.   The city attorney even got involved at one point, she says, working with the angry residents trying to close the shop. Just recently, people called her store and The Daily Herald to complain about an advertisement she placed in the paper. “And it was a cute ad,” she says. “Nothing scandalous.”

One key to her success, she says, has been her efforts to conform to community standards. For example, while she delights in creating her window displays, she tries to keep them relatively tame. Adult products are kept in a separate part of the shop, out of sight of casual shoppers or children.

Ahlin also began, early on, to establish a presence in the community—so people would know her and feel less threatened by her store. She joined the chamber and is actively involved with various committees and events. She even has a relationship with many local physicians, who refer patients to her for items that will improve their sexual lives.

“I was trying to make it so that people know that I am just a normal, everyday person, that I’m not a stripper or a drug dealer, that I have a moral compass of my own,” she says.

The bottom line, for her, is that she has managed to be successful and truly become a part of the Spanish Fork community. She recalls a Valentine’s Day, in the shop’s early days, when she saw particularly strong sales. “I just wanted to stand on the roof and shout because of all the people who said, ‘Don’t worry. She’ll be gone in six months.’”

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