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Chi Chi LaRue’s Circus to open at former Circus of Books location

Chi Chi Larue's Circus

This artist rendering shows the facade of Chi Chi LaRue’s Circus, which will open in the former location of Circus of Books. Photo: Channel 1 Releasing.

Circus of Books has closed, but three-ring adult antics will continue at the historic location when Chi Chi Larue’s Circus opens in the spring.

Chi Chi LaRue’s, the West Hollywood gay porn emporium retail space on Santa Monica Boulevard west of La Cienega, will open its second location May 1.

CHI CHI LARUE’S CIRCUS

Like it’s iconic predecessor, the new big top will also sell a large selection of sex toys, leather items, condoms, and lubricants.

Chi Chi LaRue’s is the retail arm Channel 1 Releasing, one of the largest gay-owned and operated adult entertainment companies in the world.

The new Circus will blend Chi Chi LaRue’s upscale, naughty retail store with the history of Circus of Books, said Rob Novinger, CEO of Channel 1 Releasing, who signed a 10-year lease for the space last month.

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CIRCUS OF BOOKS’ HISTORY

“It’s a great location and historical,” Novinger said in a telephone interview.

Part of Circus of Books’ legacy was its location directly in front of the notoriously cruisy gay spot behind the store known as Vaseline Alley. The store’s lube section will be named Vaseline Alley, Novinger said.

“I moved to West Hollywood when I was 20 years old. Vaseline Alley was still going,” Novinger said. “I remember that before I was in the adult industry. It’s a historical for me, too.”

CRUISY MEETING PLACE

At the time, decades before the internet and hook-up apps, Circus of Books was also played an important role for gay men discovering and exploring their sexuality.

“Things are so different now, Novinger said. “Before the internet, you only had bars as meeting places. In West Hollywood, Circus of Books was a gathering place, too. You went there to meet people.

“The content inside the store made it dirty, racy, and scandalous,” Novinger said. “It was an epicenter.”

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COLORFUL MAKEOVER

The original store, Book Circus, opened in 1960 and had red and white stripes. Chi Chi LaRue’s Circus will have their signature pink and orange stripes.

When Barry and Karen Mason bought the store in 1982, they changed the name to Circus of Books. Novinger initially spoke with the Masons a few years ago when he heard they were selling the store, he said.

Circus of Books

Previous to 1982, Circus of Books was Book Circus and painted with red and white stripes. Photo: Channel 1 Releasing.

A medical marijuana dispensary owner wanted to buy the space, but when that sale didn’t happen, the Masons and Novinger rekindled their conversation about Chi Chi LaRue’s opening a second location in the space.

The facade of the building will display the name Chi Chi LaRue’s Circus, and the big picture windows that faced Santa Monica Boulevard back in the day will return to the building. The interior also will receive a makeover Novinger said.

Also, both Chi Chi LaRue’s locations will feature a Tom of Finland store-within-a-store.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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