I had high hopes for the Sexy Shop. Nestled comfortably in double-fronted premises of moderate size on ul. Tomasza, ‘sexy’ suggested to me a light-hearted flirtatiousness otherwise entirely absent from the terrifying world of Krakow’s go-go bars and those grim staircases advertising ‘24h massage.’ I was expecting more in the way of saucy, handmade lace items and less in the way of hard-eyed, Belarusian blondes.
I was disappointed. The not-necessarily-horrifying lacy lingerie is there, manufactured by the hands of winsome grandmothers in some mountain village I never want to go to, but a closer inspection of the window display raised some alarms: cellophane-wrapped packages featuring pouting and big hair, a suggestion of ball-gags, a pair of strap-on breasts manufactured from a plush, furry material. I didn’t go inside.
I may be wrong. Maybe the place is run by a genuine Venus with a perfectly nuanced grasp of English. Maybe she really is here to put a bit of soul and humanity back into the late night industry and can’t understand why the crowds are staying away. Maybe I was simply jaded from the previous evening watching the parade of depressing antics outside the Cocomo Club.
Cracovians only go to the Rynek accidentally, and certainly not in the evening, but I was there accidentally one evening last week, and there are some rum goings on to report. The Cocomo Club chain (“Cocomo is a magical place where sexy girls will warm your senses and provide an exciting atmosphere”) now has two branches in Krakow – one at both main entrances to the Rynek, on Grodzka and Floriańska.
“I have concealed my wallet somewhere on my body.”
Taking cigarette breaks outside the pub across the street, I watched as three young Cocomo employees twirling pink umbrellas propositioned literally every male who walked past. “Hello sir, do you want to come inside?” “Why no? Twenty six lovely girls will dance for you.” That last point is a hard one to answer off the top of your head. Fortunately, a recent national story that some schlub in Poznań added a bill for 970,000 zloty to his debit card after an evening in one branch springs to mind fairly quickly. In the three hours I was watching, intermittently, not a single customer was snagged – which explains why they have to get a million off anyone who does wander in.
I have a realistic, laissez-faire attitude to the economic life of the Old Town. I have no time for those who boycott chain stores with the vague ambition of ‘saving’ traditional Krakow, or moan about Disneyfication. A successful city is a machine for making money – always has been – and Krakow makes a lot of its money from being a place people want to visit. If identical but convenient shops and giant, tacky balloons work economically, they are inevitable. Anyway, today’s humdrum tat is tomorrow’s precious cultural heritage – I guarantee, one day, wide-eyed tourists will be trekking around a faithful reproduction of an early 21st-century Carrefour Express.
Having said all that, the sex industry should not be allowed to dominate the city centre. I don’t mind solicitation and pole dancing in the historical heart of Krakow in themselves – far worse things have happened on the Rynek over the centuries – but young girls offering exotic delights to tourists strolling with their wives and kids is not going to be good for anyone’s economic wellbeing.