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San Francisco

Meet Auto Erotica, Castro's Vintage Gay Porn Store For 20 Years [NSFW]

Twenty years ago, Auto Erotica moved into a second-floor commercial space on 18th Street where owner Patrick Batt focuses on vintage and collectable gay porn. DVDs, magazines, movies, cards, photos, posters, pins and even VHS tapes are just some of the things collectors and other shoppers are looking for.

"There is a renewed interest in gay history," Batt said, citing material that reflects what happened during the early days of the AIDS crisis. He's lived in San Francisco for 36 years, was born in Wisconsin, but grew up in Alaska. What brought him to San Francisco? "Freedom," Batt said.

A selection of the VHS tapes on offer at Auto Erotica.

Before Auto Erotica, Batt had a dildo and leather store across the street, an offshoot of a mail-order company that he owned at the time. When his current space became available, he moved and slowly morphed the business into vintage porn. There are a lot of other dildo stores in the neighborhood, Batt notes.

The shop's name was related to dildos and other sex toys; "it meant self-pleasuring, that was how I viewed it,” Batt said. A few people confuse it with cars, which is why he periodically gets phone calls asking for old repair manuals.

Because it's on the second floor, a lot of people consider the store a well-kept secret; locals have told Batt that they've walked past for years, but never came up the stairs. "I don't have the visibility I would have if I were on the ground level," Batt said, adding that this also means his rent is lower.

Batt concentrates on San Francisco when it comes to his collection. "People here are either interested in San Francisco history in particular or gay history in general," he said. He advertises in newspapers, and a sign in front of the store asks people to sell him their collectables.

"Last night a guy came in and said ‘I have a box of old magazines’," so Batt made a deal on the sidewalk and bought them.

An illustration for former gay bar The Lion Pub.

Due to changing demographics, more and more straight people come into the store, shopping next to gay tourists and collectors who visit from all over the world. "I have people who come here every time they come to the city," Batt said.

Batt buys what he thinks fits into his collection, and "sometimes it surprises me," he said. He also sells items on eBay, but "there are many things I won’t sell, because I can't replace them," he said. Sometimes, though, when someone makes him a very good offer, he can’t refuse.

Auto Erotica has looked out on 18th Street for two decades.

Batt is a former president of the Castro Merchants, and was one of the owners of Eureka Cafe on Castro Street. The coffee house closed its doors in August.

Auto Erotica isn't busy enough for employees anymore, "which is unfortunate," Batt said. He once had a staff, but these days, "it's either me or not at all," Batt said.

Auto Erotica is open seven days a week from 11am to 7pm and on Sundays from noon to 6pm.

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