When Meme “Mambo Baptise” Armstrong set off to create Iniquities, she wanted to make a safe space in the heart of Southside. Living up to its intentions, Iniquities is not your average sex shop.
The small store in the heart of Birmingham’s Southside sells everything from c—k rings to chicken feet to cold brews. Sex toys, hoodoo spiritualism and coffee made on site are all mix in the 3,200 square foot store.
Iniquities originally started as a boutique for sex toys and fetish items in Spike’s Leather Club, a now closed gay bar in the Lakeview area. Owner Meme Armstrong, a member of the city’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Board, had been selling toys long before, though. She has been an avid collector since she was 15 and seller since she was 18.
Armstrong’s brother, Yancy Benson, has been along for the ride since before the store was even created. He said he loves working at the store and helping people find their direction. “I just hope they can spread the joy with whatever they learn [here]and come back,” Benson said.
Creating the Space
The decision to become an independent store came from a desire to create space safe for people of all backgrounds to question and explore.
“I got to find a place where my people can feel safe and it’s clean and someone actually cares and is knowledgeable about the challenges they face in their journey,” Armstrong said.
The store does not have the seediness you might find in an adult bookshop or the sterile environment of a sex toy emporium like Callie’s Love Stuff. It seeks to fill a different function as an environment where anyone can go to ask questions and learn.
Armstrong grew up in a Pentecostal household near the Walker-Winston County line, an area she described as very prejudiced.
“It never made any sense to me growing up and I was like “How can you hate somebody for something they can’t control?’” Armstrong said.
Armstrong is a practitioner of Hoodoo and the store sells a variety of spiritual items in accordance with those traditions, many made in house.
A Labor of Love
The shop is a labor of love for Armstrong. She is the only regular employee in the shop. Several volunteers rotate out during in the store, but the store at this time cannot afford to have anyone on payroll.
“It’s something I’m so passionate about that it doesn’t seem like work,” Armstrong said. “I wake up every day and I’m like ‘All right let’s see who we’re gonna meet today. Let’s see what difference we are going to make today.’”
Jarvis Jones is one of the volunteers who rotates out at Iniquities. He began taking shifts four months ago but has been friends with Armstrong since the days when she was selling toys at Spike’s.
“[Working here] gives me a great place to come and hang out and to get to know everybody and to create a great atmosphere,” Jones said.
Building a Future
Surviving COVID proved to be a challenge for the shop. The store had only been open for a few months when the pandemic began and did not receive federal assistance, so they had to adapt.
“The community banded together and they supported me, and I was literally selling novelties out of the door like a back-hand deal,” Armstrong said.
Currently, the store is limited in the selection it has on site and still working to recover from the pandemic, but Armstrong said she is hopeful for where they will be in a year.
“I know that with enough diligence and determination we will be successful,” Armstrong said.
Iniquities is located at 2501 Seventh Avenue South.