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Forbidden Fruit owner closing erotic shop off Sixth Street

Michael Barnes, Out & About

Staff Writer
Austin 360

People look at Terri Lynn Raridon kind of funny when they discover she owns the Forbidden Fruit erotic shop, slated to close Saturday after 30 years in business just off East Sixth Street.

"It never fails," the Austinite says huskily. "Most tend to arch an eyebrow, and I can just see the images going through their minds: that my home has some kind of magic door, like in the movie ‘10,' that flips around to produce either a heart-shaped bed with mirrored ceilings or a dungeon!"

For the record, Raridon, 49, does not have a magic door. The sports mom, rock drummer, extravaganza stager, dance teacher, burlesque choreographer and wildlife rehabilitator is merely, as she calls it, a "life-a-holic."

"Despite it all, I'm pretty old-fashioned on most fronts," says the mother of one, married to software marketer Richard Maddox. "Family and friends come first with me."

Stripped of the contemporary context, an observer might associate Raridon's bold silhouette, billowing mane and full lips with the noblewomen and actresses painted by Thomas Gainsborough in the 18th century.

And, in fact, the California native once trod the boards regularly. The first valedictorian from Houston's Alternative Learning Center and a confirmed hippie chick, she moved out on her own at age 16. In 1978, a friend said: "You gotta come up here to Austin. This is where it's happening."

Well, two things happened. Raridon won a scholarship to study dance at the University of Texas. And she transferred cultural allegiance from the hippie tribe to the punk, hanging out at Raul's, Club Foot and Duke's Royal Coach Inn.

"I was going to musicals and modern dance shows, too," she says. "I loved it all. Why limit yourself?"

The dance connection won her roles in musicals, which led to choreographic and directorial duties. In a bit of foreshadowing, her first gig designing dance was for "Gypsy," the classic musical about the life of a burlesque queen.

She even dated the same guy as classmate and future Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden. "She was a hellion back then," Raridon says. "This is the girl who wouldn't wear shoes to class. And look at her now."

She acted in searing dramas like "Burn This" and performed modern dance with Dee McCandless and Gene Menger during the 10-year history of Invisible Inc. She spent two exhausting years helping put together Club Sandwich, a cabaret show housed mainly at the Esther's Follies location now occupied by Coyote Ugly.

During the 21st century, however, Raridon surged to the forefront of the burlesque revival, helping shape the Kitty Kitty Bang Bang troupe.

"During the past decade, we've seen a cultural craving in the areas of sexuality and sensuality," she says. "There's a harking back to when dancing was blue, but not that blue. There's more mystery and artifice to burlesque than in contemporary stripping. Women aren't really dancing in topless bars anymore. I don't want to say it's pornographic, but the moves are more explicit."

Raridon's theater background helps her coordinate events such as the Texas Burlesque Festival and the Extravagasm Fantasy Ball.

So how did Forbidden Fruit figure into all this? The store was founded on Neches Street in 1981 by Mark Garfinkel, who had earned a master's degree in sociology.

"He felt like there ought to be place for women and couples to comfortably shop for intimacy-enhancing products," Raridon says. Garfinkel, a saxophone player for the band Sharon Tate's Baby, knew Raridon from the punk scene. When she made a presentation to win sponsorship from his shop for a movie at the Varsity Theatre, the art house on the Drag where she then worked, Mark reportedly said: "You need to come work for me."

Two years later, she became one of the first presenters of "naughty but nice" home-party sales for Forbidden Fruit, itself one of the first of its kind in the country.

"Before that, you had to go to a porn palace," she says. "We broke a taboo."

Raridon purchased the booming business in 1987 on a Sixth Street that today's tourists might not recognize.

"Back then we actually had more retail on the street," she says. "And we saw the rise of the fern bar and more restaurants. There were great dives, too, and Steamboat was the venerable rock venue. The street had a more eclectic feeling. Some felt it was more dangerous. I never did."

Raridon's nonthreatening displays of toys, lingerie and other erotica soon colonized Las Vegas, as well.

"I tell people I bought my Harvard MBA on that one," she jokes. "I lost enough money and learned enough about business to have gone to Harvard for two years — in 1992 dollars."

After that came an outlet in the back of a clothing store on the Drag, then a store near Room Service and Musical Exchange on North Loop Boulevard. That proved an instant and ongoing success, especially after moving across the street to a building she wisely purchased. It remains open.

"It has everything to do with the bohemian neighborhood," she says of the retail curve on North Loop. "One of the last bastions of true Austin independence."

Raridon tried to expand to a larger venue on Sixth Street, but the City of Austin wouldn't grant a zone variance on the building she purchased, so it became a tattoo and body piercing parlor, one of the first in Austin to introduce professional piercing methods. Later, she felt she couldn't compete with the cut-rate parlors that followed her onto that section of Sixth, so she closed Body Arts and now leases the building to another parlor operator.

So why close the iconic Forbidden Fruit shop, with its familiar three-dimensional red apple sign, now?

"It's the parking and the transients," she says of the former residence and seamstress shop. "And it's a 200-year-old building that I can't afford to fix up." Still, she's throwing what she hopes will be an upbeat closing party on Saturday.

"The history and the camaraderie," she says. "That's what I'm going to miss down here."

mbarnes@statesman.com