Real life: ‘Our family-run sex shop is thriving in lockdown’

Lust shop Brighton

by Mel Fallowfield |
Updated on

Not many wives discuss sex with their partner’s former spouse and stepchildren, but in Calandra Balfour’s line of work, it’s inevitable, as their extended family runs three adult stores

When Calandra Balfour tells people that she works in sex shops, it often raises a few eyebrows – but when she then says she also works with both her husband and his ex-wife, it’s even more of a conversation stopper.

What’s more, at times it’s been a full-on family affair, with both her stepchildren having worked in the shops too.

Calandra, 41, who lives with husband Tim Richardson, 59, in Brighton, near to his ex-wife Nancy Barry, 54, and their two children Taylor, 25, and Kizzy, 20, admits, “There have been some surreal moments.

“Sitting around the boardroom table discussing vibrators with your stepchildren is not a usual situation. Hearing your mum’s opinion on a sex toy is probably every son’s worst nightmare, and sometimes Taylor has told Nancy to rein it in.

“But it’s the nature of our business – we have to talk about sex, and most importantly pleasure, openly.”

Calandra Balfour
Calandra has worked in sex shop Taboo for 16 years ©Calandra Balfour

She adds, “Nancy and I are really good friends and we have a lot of laughs – we discuss anything from masturbation to how long it’s been since we last had sex. The business is a success because we all really enjoy spending time together.”

Calandra started working in sex shops when she was 21.

She says, “I’ve always been open about sex. Both my parents were very liberal. My dad’s office was in Soho, so I remember peering into sex shops from quite an early age and being fascinated.

“I went to university in Sussex to study neuroscience and when I finished, a friend asked me to help out in a sex shop he ran in Brighton – I’ve never looked back.

“I love my work. A lot of it can be a bit tedious – there’s a lot more polishing of latex than people might imagine. But what’s really rewarding is talking to people and breaking down the shame of sex. So many people feel ashamed of what they like or don’t like, or their sexuality. Helping them through that and giving them a safe place to discuss what they want is really rewarding.

“I know I’m sending them home to experience pleasure – which is a great feeling.”

CHECK OUT: The best sex toys to make self isolation more fun


Sex toys for self isolation

social-isolation-toys1 of 8
CREDIT: Love Honey

Lelo Insignia Soraya Luxury rechargeable rabbit vibrator

BEHOLD: the Rabbit of the future. So named for its ear like clitoral ticklers, the Rabbit is still the most iconic sex toy around. This sleek black one by luxury sex toy brand Lelo not only looks super sexy, the brands trademark 'rumbly' vibrations coupled with G spot stimulations offer the most intense orgasms we've had.

social-isolation-toys2 of 8
CREDIT: Love Honey

Lovehoney Classic mains powered magic wand vibrator

If you've not tried a magic wand, prepare to have your mind well and truly blown. The UK's favourite sex toy website reimagines the classic Hitatchi wand that promises to be "stronger, quieter and more powerful than ever before." It plugs into the literal wall socket so that should give you an idea as to how robust this thing is.

social-isolation-toys3 of 8
CREDIT: Womanizer

Womanizer Premium

The latest in sex toy tech means stimulation through air pressure and German company Womanizer was the first to develop sucky-air technology (the technical term) in the most beautiful, palm sized toys. This bad boy offers a totally distinct experience, gently "sucking" the clitoris rather than using vibration to get you off. It's not cheap, but it's worth the money.

social-isolation-toys4 of 8
CREDIT: Love Honey

Lovense Lush 2 App controlled rechargeable Love App vibrator

Welcome to the wonderful world of teledildonics – toys that hook up to apps on your phone. If you have a long-distance bae who you can't see now you're self-isolating, then we have just the sex toy for you – a wireless wearable vibrator which can be controlled by anyone you give access to, through an app. Cor, we know how we're spending our next 'date night'.

social-isolation-toys5 of 8
CREDIT: Beauty Bay

Smile Makers The Romantic vibrating dildo

If it's good old-fashioned penetration you're after, this cute vibrating dildo manages to avoid being intimidating whilst still packing a punch. Its angled head and clever detached motor deliver direct G spot stimulation with a ridged shaft for added sensation. Like all good sex toys it's got various pulsation modes and is completely waterproof – it's basically your new boyfriend.

social-isolation-toys6 of 8
CREDIT: Love Honey

Lovehoney Hot Shot Rechargeable warming male masturbator

While the Orgasm Gap (quite rightly) means most of the pleasure industry is designed with women in mind, toys for the man in your life do exist. Now, we don't have the appropriate hardware to confirm, this warming masturbator is 'designed to mimic the sensations of the mouth' and looks hella cool to boot. Order one for your other half and let him in on the fun.

social-isolation-toys7 of 8

Lust! Erotic Dice Game

While our social feeds are full of family's bonding over long-forgotten boardgames, don't underestimate the good clean (kind of ) fun of adult games. This dice set contains six die - red is an action, blue is a body part and green is a part of your house to get up to business in. Just THINK of the combinations you could roll...

social-isolation-toys8 of 8

Loving Joy 20 Function Rechargeable Power Bullet Vibrator

For a purse-friendly option that's discreet but no less powerful, a classic bullet is a fail-safe option and a staple of any sex toy collection. This rechargeable one from Loving Joy delivers precise external stimulation, without the faff of tracking down tiny batteries for it.

Calandra started working with Tim 16 years ago in his Brighton shop, Taboo. At the time, he was still married to Nancy, who was then a stay-at-home mum. Calandra isn’t proud to admit there were a few weeks overlap, before Tim left Nancy for her.

She says, “I’d been working at the shop for a year when I got involved with Tim. I didn’t really know Nancy at that point, as she was at home looking after the children. Of course, she felt incredibly betrayed when it all came out, and we had huge rows. It took a long time to win her trust and move forward. We’ve put it all behind us now – she knows I’m sorry.”

After Calandra and Tim got together, unusually, Nancy went back to working with her ex and his new partner. Now, they have three shops between them.

Calandra explains, “It’s been a journey. There were times in the early days when, of course, we both struggled. It’s taken time to get where we are and a lot of work and understanding, especially from Nancy. I’m in awe of how she has handled things over the years!”

sex shop family business
The family all enjoy spending time together ©Balfour / Richardson

She adds, “Nancy has had relationships, but her boyfriends have never worked in the shop and I’m not sure we’d consider it. I think three people in this working relationship is quite enough!

“Nancy and I will have long discussions about various toys and review them – we have to know our products so we can advise customers on what works. There’s also the usual business matters, like stock control, advertising and marketing.”

When the children were old enough, Tim wanted to keep it in the family and have them work in the shops.

Read more real life stories

‘My blow up doll has stopped me feeling lonely!’

‘I’m running a naked pub in lockdown’

‘I’m fighting off coronavirus with sperm smoothies’

Watch: 'Is that a nude?' Joey Essex and Calum Best reveal their last deleted pictures

Calandra says, “When Tim asked about the children working part-time over the summer holidays, I was fully on board. But anyone who works here has to be fully trained with all the toys and what they do. I’m usually the one who’s in charge of it. However, Taylor insisted that only his dad could do his training, which I was relieved about. It might have been a bit weird talking to my stepson about dildos!

“Saying that, though, I’ve always been close to both of them. In the same way my parents were always open with me, I wanted them to feel comfortable about discussing sex with us. And it’s paid off. Kizzy often asks me what the best vibrator would be for a friend’s birthday and she once brought a friend to talk to me for advice about a pregnancy scare. There’s enough shame around sex in the outside world – I don’t want any in our family.

“At the moment, they’re both pursuing different careers in music production and law – but who knows what will happen in the future. Maybe they’ll be back running the shop! They were a bit embarrassed about what their parents did for a living when they were younger, but now they’re used to it.”

Closer magazine
Get the best real life stories in Closer magazine each week ©Closer

When lockdown measures were introduced across the country back in March, the family were forced to close their shops. But luckily, they were able to maintain their website – and business has boomed.

Calandra says, “We’ve had a 500 per cent increase in sales! Vibrators and BDSM gear have sold especially well. A lot of people have obviously decided to experiment. I’m thrilled that we have been able to help some people though lockdown.”

And Calandra is hoping they’ll be able to open their shops again over the next few weeks by following the government’s guidelines and social distancing measures.

She says, “We have regular customers who I miss! One woman is in her nineties and she still pops in from time to time to buy a new vibrator. We have all professions come to us, from street cleaners to politicians. Nancy and I love talking through the products with them. We care about people getting pleasure and we’re known for our advice and expertise – it’s much better to be hands on!”

For more information about the family’s store and products, go to and

Check out even more sizzling stories in this week's Closer magazine. Can't get to the shops? No problem. Find out how we can bring Closer magazine to you.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us