At 50, sex still sells: The Todd Couples Superstore celebrates its golden anniversary

The business has reinvented itself — after grappling over the years with city and county ordinances — into an ‘adult superstore.’
Published May 2

Fun facts about the Todd Couples Superstore, according to Laurie Brantley, its general manager of seven years:

The most popular wares at the 6,000-square-foot adult sex shop at 13417 N Nebraska Ave. are herbal male enhancement pills.

"We sell over 400 bottles a month, easy," she said.

Employees are called "sexperts" and receive verbal training on all products.

"I'd say 95 percent of my employees don't use 95 percent of the products but can educate you on 100 percent of them."

And decades ago, the shop's proprietor, Tony Arnone, owned the screening rights to the once-controversial X-rated flick Deep Throat.

But here is an unknown — the Todd's exact birthday.

News accounts say it is Dec. 26, 1969.

But store management says it is April 15 — Tax Day — of that year.

Regardless, this year marks the Todd's 50th anniversary, quite a feat for a business of that type, Brantley said.

And, due to its large red and white sign hovering above the busy corner of Nebraska and Fletcher avenues and a large building of the same colors, she said, the Todd has become both an area institution and a landmark.

"Our location is a billboard unto itself," she said. “Everyone knows it.”

Adaptation is the secret to the store's longevity, Brantley said. What was once an X-rated movie theater is now "classy.”

Both the store and its parking lot are well lit, and the most risqué products — adult DVDs and vibrators, for instance — are in the back of the store, while items like lingerie and massage oils adorn the front.

"Our place is different than others,” Brantley said. “It isn't a dark and seedy place."

That was not the Todd's original intent, either.

Originally located at Nebraska and Fowler avenues, it opened as a 360-seat conventional movie theater.

According to news accounts, the first film was shown the day after Christmas 1969. It was The Fixer, starring Alan Bates.

But Brantley said the location opened in some capacity the previous April. "Something was going on. We're not sure what since it was a different owner."

The then-owner, Eli Jackson, who named it Todd Theater after his son, told reporters back then that he would not screen "skin flicks." But by 1971, the theater was, according to news accounts.

The following year, Arnone purchased the business.

Arnone had other theaters throughout the nation, general manager Brantley said, which is why he purchased the rights to Deep Throat, the 1972 porn movie starring Linda Lovelace that was banned in some cities.

"He owned the rights everywhere but in California and New York," Brantley said.

Around 1983, the Todd went fully X-rated because it could not compete with the movie theater chains.

In 1986, after Tampa Council passed an ordinance banning adult businesses from being within 500 feet of schools, homes and churches, the Todd moved to its current spot just outside the city limits.

That location had a 100-seat theater and 11 video viewing booths, began selling and renting VHS tapes and added novelty sex items to shelves.

Then, in 1992, Hillsborough County required a 2,000-foot buffer between adult businesses and churches, schools and homes.

When the Todd sued the county, the two parties reached a compromise allowing the business to remain if it ceased screening movies.

Transitioning into an "adult superstore" worked out for the best financially, Brantley said, even allowing them to open a Port Richey location in 2014.

Today, what was once a male-dominated customer base is equal parts women, Brantley said.

"I think the 50 Shades movies gave women permission to be sexual," she said.

Of the 12 employees at the Hillsborough store, eight are women. All are trained to comfortably interact with customers about sex.

"That's the best part of the job," employee Kailey Snayd said. "We get to educate people and help them become more comfortable with their sexuality and their bodies."

Valentine's Day is the busiest time of the year for the Todd, followed by Halloween, when the store adds sexy costumes to its racks. And throughout the year, it remains a popular place for couples to purchase birthday and anniversary presents.

Considering the Todd is 50 this year, the golden anniversary, what does Brantley recommend for couples celebrating a similar milestone?

"We have plenty of gold stuff — it's mostly lingerie," she said, then adding with a laugh, "or it vibrates."

As is the case with any merchandise that requires batteries, vibrating products receive free ones.

Which leads Brantley to share another fun fact: "We go through several thousand batteries a month.”

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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