Jaws first fell open in March. That's when the website for the new Parkville bed-and-breakfast became the talk of this town of 6,000. Photos of naughty nurses, vibrating paddles and candy panties dominated. The bedroom treats, the site said, were for sale in the gift shop of the Romantic Getaway Today Inn.
The inn's owner, Janet Byers, says it wasn't long before city officials were telling her that in order to sell the items pictured on her site, she would need an adult-business license - something no Parkville business holds. She toned things down, but the Romantic Getaway Today Inn, which Byers markets as an adult playground, is still far from your traditional B&B.
The property, called the Porch Swing Inn in its last incarnation (a B&B that operated for about a decade), features a sex swing, an enormous beanbag known as a sex ship, a sex stool with what's called a "love mask," video cameras, racy board games, DVDs, books and much more.
The timing of events suggests that the city made an extra effort to restrain Byers' new business. The first week of March, around the time that the inn's website hit, the Board of Aldermen added six months to an existing moratorium against licensing businesses that sell sexually explicit material - the adult-business license that the city told Byers she would need.
Pure coincidence, according to Assistant City Administrator Sean Ackerson. Simply a proactive measure, he says. But the city had received several community complaints about "the nature of the business," Ackerson says.
Ackerson says he has worked with Byers to make sure her business complies with city rules, and he has supportive words for the inn. "There has been much to-do about this. And that's too bad," he says.
The adventurous sexual appetite that Byers wants to celebrate in Parkville isn't the only thing causing a stir. Just offering her guests wine has provoked more problems at City Hall.
"Alcohol can lead to things. Emotions rise, tempers flare. There can be arguments, fights, stabbings, shootings and fatalities," Virginia Ground, who owns property within a block of the inn, cautioned the Parkville Board of Aldermen in early April, when Byers sought a liquor license in the residential area steps from downtown. "And we don't want it happening here. Property values zoom downward. Good people leave. Within a few years, our beloved Parkville could be a slum area."
With Park University across the street from the inn and Parkville Presbyterian Church down the block, city officials said they and Byers would have to get out the measuring stick. City ordinance forbids liquor licenses within 300 feet of schools and churches. As she had with the city's adult-business law, Byers stopped pursuing the issue.
Get Rhonda Weimer started on the gossip that swirls around the inn, and she'll go off on the naysayers. Weimer and her partner, Ellen Underkoffler, owned the Porch Swing Inn. The couple still holds title to the property under a lease-to-own agreement with Byers.
"Is this really the first time people have realized that people go to a bed-and-breakfast to have sex?" Weimer says. She can't help but wonder whether the issue goes deeper. Byers, who lives in Lee's Summit, is black - a rare occurrence in the predominantly white Parkville.
"I think the couples-playground theme caught people's attention," says Weimer, who still lives in Parkville. "And then, once their attention was raised, I think they were unaware of their hidden bias and how it came into play. The Parkville community has embraced me and my partner and diversity in the past. But I was shocked and saddened at how some have reacted this time."
Byers says she doesn't believe that the resistance stems from racial discrimination. She gets it - people want to preserve their quaint little town, she says. She simply wants to turn up the romance and provide some relationship therapy.
"Sex and money, that's why people break up," Byers, 47, says. "I was married for 11 years. I know how hard it is to keep your sex life alive." Her three sons from the marriage live at home with her, in Lee's Summit, so she's not one to keep sex contraptions around the house. But when seeking a niche business approach, her mind turned to bedroom heat.
Last week, Byers experienced another website snafu. The day after a few local news outlets featured the inn, the business's website crashed. The site recorded 4,000 hits in one day, compared with the previous 40 per day. In the scramble to get her site back up, she had to cancel an interview with a Topeka radio station. The Web traffic brought results. Byers booked 20 reservations in 48 hours.
On an early April Saturday, Byers - whose previous business ventures include a travel agency and a childcare center - gives The Pitch a tour. "I do not like most bed-and-breakfasts," she confesses at the start. With an ornery cackle, she adds, "I like to have fun."
Down the main hallway, past the traditional B&B decorations - antiques, flowery wallpaper, doilies - sits a bookshelf. Monopoly waits next to something called "The Bedroom Game." There's a DVD of Finding Nemo. And there's a DVD called Ultimate Sexual Massage. Within view are skimpy bikinis and lingerie for sale - "sexy little robes," Byers calls them.
Each of the four suites includes what Byers calls a "secret closet with a romantic extra" (the swings and such). User manuals, in which couples are pictured using the extras, are in the rooms. Byers says she purchased all the toys from online home-health-care supply store Allegro Medical. (She had the cloth toys reupholstered in vinyl. "So they wipe down well," she says.) All the extras are listed on the inn's website, but she doesn't point them out unless asked.
Byers knocks on the door where a couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary is staying. They open their suite, and Byers ushers The Pitch inside the room and into the bathroom. She shuts the door, opens a closet, and pulls out a small gliding chair and a bench. She whispers the products' names - IntimateRider and RiderMate - before the man on the other side of the door says, "You don't have to whisper. We already found it." His wife lets out a knowing giggle.
Another suite features the sex stool and something called a wedge liberator. With Byers' two youngest sons, aged 8 and 9, accompanying this part of the tour, the wedge room is a quick stop.
The suite with the beanbag sex ship (officially named the Zeppelin Lounger) has a whirlpool tub and mirrors on the ceiling above the bed. (It's this extra-decadent-seeming space that has given various local media outlets the sweats.) The couple staying here are sitting on the front porch - one of the few times the room hasn't had a couple in it since the inn opened. The suite has been so popular that Byers and her boyfriend of five years haven't tried it out themselves.
The last of the four suites, which is vacant, has a classic canopy bed. But unlike the usual B&B canopy bed, this one has been retrofitted to allow the canopy to support a sex swing.
"No one can figure out the right way to work it," Byers says of the swing, through a hearty laugh. "My boyfriend and I and my friends who have stayed here have exchanged funny stories about getting stuck."
For at least one couple, the inn has succeeded in Byers' mission to keep the spark burning
With a giddy voice, Byers says, "My boyfriend is always asking, 'When do I get to come to the inn again?'"