Sex toys whip up sales in Ballymena
Sex toys are being sold from a shop just yards from the town hall in the heart of Ulster's 'Bible belt'.
Owners Michael and Sharon Welsh say lace-up thigh boots and sexy nurses' uniforms are the biggest sellers in Ballymena.
But some of the risqué items are kept discreetly out of sight.
Bondage gear, vibrators, whips and canes are among the toys helping the store fight off stiff competition from lingerie rivals.
The shop, on Mill Street, is directly opposite the town hall, which is currently closed for a £14.5m re-development.
The couple took over established store - Elizabeth Joan Lingerie - two years ago.
But a big decline in business in the once-thriving outlet forced the husband-and-wife team to turn to saucier products.
"We wouldn't have the business now if we hadn't started doing adult sex clothes and toys," said Michael.
"This street has died, all the money has been ploughed into the top end of the town. Competition within the town is fierce, especially with high street underwear stores opening up."
The couple say there is a big demand for adult lingerie and sex toys in the town.
"People don't want to go to seedy sex shops in Belfast," said Michael.
"There is definitely a demand within the Bible belt for these type of products - and we've proved our point, because we are still here.
"We've found a niche in the market - no-one else around here sells anything like this."
Ballymena Borough Council contacted the pair earlier this year, after two complaints about the saucy contents of the shop were made.
"We had a council representative visit us and they tried to get us to apply for a licence for a sex shop - but we're not a sex shop," insisted Sharon.
"A few weeks ago someone came back to check on things, and they seemed happy enough that we're not doing anything illegal.
"We don't sell DVDs, videos, magazines or anything like that, we're a milder version of Ann Summers.
"The vast majority of our shop is still stocked with mainstream underwear, the way it always was.
"We are discreet, there is only a small section that displays the sexy lingerie and some toys.
"We keep the more risqué items out of sight."
The couple recently launched a website to give customers a look at their full range of naughty outfits and sex aids, www.x-otica.co.uk.
"Most people still prefer to come in and see the products first hand or order through us in-store," said Sharon.
"The boots are really popular. They were running out of the shop before Christmas, and the dress-up costumes, like the white nurse's uniform, is also one of our best-sellers."