Mother-Son Owned Sex Shop Gets Kinky in the Garment District

By Elizabeth Barber on May 3, 2013 6:39am | Updated on May 3, 2013 8:27am

 Mother and son Ida and Jimmy Burd are the unlikely duo behind the popular sex shop A&J Lingerie.
Mother and son Ida and Jimmy Burd are the unlikely duo behind the popular sex shop A&J Lingerie.
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DNAinfo/Elizabeth Barber

GARMENT DISTRICT — A mother, a son and sex: It's a recipe straight out of a classical Greek tragedy.

But the combination has a happier ending at A&J Lingerie at 41 W. 28th St., a little New York emporium selling racy lingerie and sex toys under Ida Burd’s grandmotherly tutelage and her son Jimmy’s non-judgmental guidance.

Tucked away on the second floor, above a street where other shops are mostly selling potted foliage, this women-oriented store sells sexy goods ranging from high-tech vibrators to suggestively shaped baking pans. As unexpected as the '80s bubblegum-pop hits playing on a loop and the Barbie-pink walls is the mother-son duo behind the operation, neither of whom ever expected to run a sex shop together.

Ida, a 5-foot-tall grandmother of five with a snow-white buzz cut and purple drawn-on eyebrows, is usually found at the front of the store, invariably wrestling something skimpy and lacy onto an uncooperative mannequin. Occasionally, she pauses to greet a customer — regulars get a kiss on the cheek, while new faces get the chocolate candy version.

“I get too many kisses. Everyone loves me,” said Ida, who is in her 80s but declined to give her exact age, and relishes her reputation as a candid grandmother-type, memorialized in adoring Yelp reviews.

At the back of the shop, where the sex toys are kept, is Jimmy, 45, a muscular man with a reassuringly plain-spoken attitude about his kinky wares.

“We make people feel comfortable,” he said. “This isn’t taboo anymore. People now aren’t willing to let their lives go by without experiencing new things.”

Ida, who moved to New York from Puerto Rico when she was 18, got her start in business as a buyer at a wholesale women’s clothing store in the Garment District before opening a dress shop of her own in 1968 that her son later joined. That store went under in 2001, because “women just don’t wear nice dresses anymore,” Ida explained.

That's when Jimmy, who moved in with his mother after a financially taxing divorce in 1997, had an idea. They could reopen with an altogether different product — not the proper dresses that hadn’t sold, but sheer, fluorescent-colored getups that barely graze the thigh or long dresses with so many slits that the fabric seems irrelevant. 

“I thought, in hard times, what always sells? Drugs, alcohol and sex,” Jimmy said.

Ida at first demurred. “If your father were alive, what would he say?” she remembered saying of her late husband, who died some 30 years earlier. But she was a businesswoman, so in late 2001 the two opened a revamped shop that aimed to please — “and it was the best decision we ever made,” Ida said.

“We get everyone here — doctors, teachers, secretaries,” added Jimmy, who noted the store has been consistently profitable with a seasonal spike in business around Valentine’s Day. “She might be the biggest executive in Manhattan, but she’s in here buying a Silver Bullet [vibrator]. And it’s our little secret.”

The unlikely duo say that running a sex shop with each other isn’t as uncomfortable as it would appear.

“When times are tough, you do what you have to,” said Jimmy of the arrangement. “What was I going to do, tell my mother, 'Look, the business has changed, so you can’t come to work anymore?'”

The two don’t work quite side by side at A&J. The front room, where Ida greets customers, is reasonably tame. There are feather boas and 6-inch platform heels and "Babe" baseball costumes that would be highly impractical for a game of baseball. There are full-body stockings with cutouts in strategic places (plus-sizes are available) and edible underwear. Prices range from about $4 for fishnet tights to about $66 for slinky dresses with a plunging neckline.

On a Monday evening, Sagne Pierce, 24, shopped for something to wear for a singing gig at a witches-themed lesbian party in Brooklyn the following evening. Scoring a barely-there witches outfit from the bargain bin for $9.99 — complete with a teeny tiny witch's hat that Ida cheerfully modeled — she asked if Ida had a green thong in stock to wear under the costume’s sheer skirt.

“Crotch-less or with a crotch?” asked Ida, as the two surveyed the store, peeking under mannequins’ corsets but ultimately finding nothing quite “neon enough.”

“Most of these shops are run by dirty old men who don’t make me feel comfortable at all,” said Pierce, a performance artist who was visiting A&J for the fourth time, drawn back by the store’s endearing proprietors. “I feel like I've found a kindred spirit in Ida.”

The back room — which features a slightly more hard-core selection — is Jimmy’s charge. Ida doesn’t know what most of the items there do, and acknowledges this to any customer reluctant to browse the backroom with a man instead of her.  Jimmy is the expert guide to the room’s wares — whips, handcuffs, vibrators, lubricants and other products featured prominently in the erotic bestseller "Fifty Shades of Grey." If customers ask for help, he steps in, making recommendations. If they don’t, he lets them browse privately.

Ida follows the same rule in the front room — never asking questions.

But she has plenty of answers and grandmotherly wisdom, like “love yourself before you love anyone else.”

And also, some practical advice: “Always wear a condom,” she said.

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