Across from Maria Hernandez park in Bushwick, there’s a pro-intersectional feminist bookstore and sex shop called Troll Hole tucked inside the Mermaid Laundromat. A few days before Halloween, I was sitting on the purple astroturf inside the shop, a modest five-by-seven-foot cubicle, drinking white wine and eating not-gluten-free chocolate brownies made by Monica Yi, a co-founder. Monica’s dog Francis was there (named after a Jesuit), and so were Justin Shock and Hayley Blatte, the other co-founders, and Taylor Yates, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Selfish, a magazine sold in the shop.
We were surrounded by zines, chapbooks, patches reading “dead men can’t catcall,” lube of all kinds (and the smell of lube), rose quartz kegel balls, silicone enema bulbs, and lots of other paraphernalia that lands, somehow, in the #LGBTQIA category. Swatches of green Halloween spiderweb were draped here and there with cutouts, and tiny plastic spiders clung to the edges of everything. I came to find out a little bit more about the work Troll Hole is doing, and why they’re doing it in a laundromat.
The space seems to be decorated for Halloween—or is this permanent?
Justin: Have you ever tried to pull this webbing apart? It’s the most time-consuming thing.
Monica: That’s why there’s clumps.
Taylor: So it might be permanent now?
Hayley: It’s our Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas decor.
Monica: And some of the cutouts were made by Jolina, who is the little girl at the laundromat—
Hayley: Her parents own the laundromat, and we have her working on a lot of projects. She just has endless amounts of time to kill.
Monica: She’s nine. I’m like, are you going to pay me for childcare?
How long have you been in this location?
M: Since April 20th. It was on purpose. An easy date to remember.
H: But we got the space way before—
J: Actually, since October of last year. I think it’s been a year since we’ve had the space.
H: But you know, we had to get our shit together. We had to build the wall, put together the LLC, and we kept pushing it back because we all have other jobs, careers, life stuff.
What are your other jobs?
H: I’m a consultant at a software company.
J: I manage a vintage clothing store in the city—but I really try to keep that life separate.
M: Art director and graphic designer. I work freelance. And the last notable thing I did was working for a fashion magazine.
J: But back to the beginning of the space—it was really important for us not have a financier, or borrow money from a big bank or something, so it took us a long time to save up to make shit happen, basically.
H: Oh yea, I forgot about that.
How much is rent here? Can I ask?
J: Very affordable.
M: It’s $600 per month.
T: How did you guys find the space?
M: We had literally been talking about Troll Hole as an idea even before we found this space, for a couple of years—casually talking about queer spaces, about bookstores. There are only 13 feminist bookstores in the U.S. and Canada, but it might just be in the U.S., I could be wrong. Anyway, it’s a small number. [She’s right, at least according to Paste] I live around here and I do my laundry here, and I saw that they had a little for sale sign up, and I had been kind of keeping my eye out for signs—
H: For rent.
J: We bought it!
M: Right, I wish.
T: But they only wanted to use this corner of it, to maintain the authenticity.
M: No one here is actually doing their laundry.
J: The quarters are slugs!
M: But yeah, that’s how we found the space—we jumped on it that month.
So the laundromat was renting just this box?
H: Well yeah, but there wasn’t a wall here. We built that.
J: There was a tarp.
What was here before you?
J: A cellphone accessory store run by one of the members of the laundromat crew, the stock of which you can still find in an aquarium case in the back.
M: Which, I’m kind of like, I need a new iPhone case. But then I’m like, do you want help putting this display together? I can help you do this.
When you went to talk to them about renting, did they ask what you were going to use the space for?
M: They asked what we were going to sell, and I said, books and adult gifts, and they were like, O.K.—as long as there’s no food! There were a bunch of other people who had inquired about the space, but they wanted to make it a coffee stand.
J: [Giggles] Cus there’s a lack of that.
Do you have plans for a bigger space?
H: I think we’d like a bigger space. But we’re gonna see how we’re doing, and suss it out for another six months, make it to a year.
Financially speaking, or emotionally speaking?
H: I, ideally want to keep this space and open another one, so we have two spaces.
M: I’m like… Hayley, you’re my mother [laughs] but yeah—that would be ideal.
H: This would be our smaller outpost, and then we could have a larger space for events. We’ve talked about getting at least a beer and wine permit, so we could have more events. But right now we’re just learning how to manage our vendors and our merchandise.
Why does this store exist? Why Troll Hole?
M: So, like on our business card we shrunk it down to say we’re a pro-intersectional feminist zine, book, literature, and adult gift shop, and I think in the very very very beginnings of talking about opening something up collectively, it was more about where, out of my curiosity, where do you get sex things in Brooklyn?
I can’t think of another place …
M: There’s a place in Williamsburg that sells kind of like, boudoir, typically sexy things. But they’re not really—it’s very gendered. Pink cuffs, that kind of thing. [There are five or six sex shops in Brooklyn. Please, in Park Slope, has a more balanced approach]. Not that we don’t have pink cuffs here, but it was also about having a queer space. At the time, we were all living in Bushwick, and at the time, I could only list a few spaces—and it was a bar, and another bar.
M: At the time, I was thinking of Tandem and Happyfun Hideaway.
T: Yay Happyfun Hideaway!
J: That was a long time ago.
M: Yeah, and obviously from there we’ve seen a complete, like, political change in the climate of the whole country, and like, I’ve always collected zines, and made zines, and it was an important facet of any sort of conversation about sex. And from there, it evolved into this feminist bookstore plus sex shop concept. And from there, it became Troll Hole.
Why is the shop called Troll Hole?
H: I think all of us had had like five bottles of wine, and …
T: Was there a troll present?
J: I’m a troll!
M: Let’s be real, we’re all a little trollish. There’s no avoiding it.
Troll Hole is located at 226 Knickberbocker Avenue. They’re usually open Tuesday — Sunday, but check their Instagram for most recent hours. If the sign is up, they’re open!