Back Stories – AAA News’ & FSC’s Sidney Grief

“Independent. Local. Austin.”  We’ve all heard this or something thereabout to describe the world’s most awesome city, right?

Texas has always been known for its independent spirit, and the city of Austin has always brought that spirit to the next level.  The capital of Texas is known for its quirkiness, its inclusivity, and its devil-may-care attitude.  As such, it’s no surprise that an activist and community-based organizer who has worked to protect our constitutional rights to free speech and expression within the context of (apparent) disapproval from wider society for the majority of his adult life lives right here in Austin (!!).

And to think – before this past Friday, I only knew Sidney Grief as the President of AAA News!!

AAA News, Inc. is the last independent chain of local newsstands in central Texas retailing DVDs, magazines, books, and more.  The “and more” retailed by AAA News is **drum roll** adult stuff –adult DVDs, magazines, and books and a bevy of adult novelties.  But Sidney Grief is far more than just the proprietor of an independent local Austin-area chain.  He took some time out to tell Porn Valley Vantage about his life committed to defending freedom of expression (among many other things)…

After garnering almost two decades of adult retail business experience in central Texas, Sid co-founded AAA News, Inc. in 1991 (he bought out his original partner one year later). The corporation currently has three retail outlets in the greater-Austin area: AAA News, an amazing newsstand packed with everything from mainstream magazines to alternative press and hard-to-find specialty items coupled with an extensive selection of adult DVDs for rent and sale; XXXcite!, an all-adult retail outlet; and DiscountMAXXX, which offers a wide variety of mainstream newsstand and adult DVDs, toys, and lingerie at discounted prices.

(pictured: the AAA News storefront)

When I asked Sid how he became the proprietor of an adult business, he laughed and said he “came by it naturally.”  He then told me this fantastic story…

Sid grew up in rural Texas.  His mother had a Ph.D. and worked with special needs children; and his father was a farmer/rancher.  Consequently, he too was going to farm and ranch.  His parents had a unique marriage… and divorce… three times over… as if they couldn’t quite be together or apart for very long.

During one of their “apart” periods, Sid’s father Harry Grief moved out to California.  Harry spent his time working out, acting in various bit film roles, and living a very bohemian, Venice-beach-in-the-early-1960s lifestyle.  Adolescent Sid basked in the antithesis of small-town farm life during a summer visit to California, and he came to realize that there were a lot more “types” of people and lifestyles out there than just those he had seen so far in Texas.  But eventually the summer ended, and he had to return home.

When Sid was in late high school, he was living with his father in Washington, DC.  They shared a house that was far too large for the two of them, so Harry opened his doors to local women working as exotic dancers.  That’s right: Sid was in 11th and 12th grade living in a house full of strippers.  But rather than buying into to all the dismissive hype often associated with women sex workers, Sid got to know these ladies as regular folks negotiating the same trials and tribulations faced by everyone else.  Just like his summer on the beach in California, this really affected his point of view.

And then, in 1969, Sid enlisted in the US Army.  He worked as an intelligence analyst and stayed up many nights “analyzing” news broadcasts from all over the world.  He soon discovered that the same series of events could be reported as a victory or a defeat, as inevitable heroic rebellion or as unruly foolishness – there are multiple truths.

He also became fascinated by Japanese culture and religion during these years, specifically the part about no original sin (you know, because Japanese culture is not situated in Christianity).  In coming to understand that the guilt US persons often associate with sex was culturally constructed, Sid began to realize that the taboo “nature” of sex was not a given.  There are multiple truths to sex as well.

So when his father asked him to partner in opening an adult bookstore in the mid-1970s, he did; and he’s been working in retail adult and mainstream film and print media ever since. Over the years, you have been able to find all types of material in his stores – from mainstream fiction to Christian bibles, from independently and/or internationally produced magazines to the hardest hard core and wide variety of “masturbators” (fyi, that’s genteelness for pocket pussies and the like).  Sid doesn’t discriminate when he stocks his shelves – in his mind, the best tactic is to “put it all out there and let the customer decide.”

But, contrary to what you may be thinking, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing in the world of central Texas adult retail.

Sid told me that, relative to just a few years ago, business is currently down approximately 30%.  He attributed this figure to three unique factors: piracy and the accessibility of free content (adult and otherwise), the economic recession, and the mainstreaming of adult.  In Sid’s assessment, porn has lost a measure of its “forbidden fruit appeal” in recent years.  This works synergistically with easy access and (real and perceived) diminished means, augmenting people’s propensity to not buy – the titillation that comes from indulgence in adult content just isn’t what it once was.

But, like a true entrepreneur and survivor, AAA News, Inc. has taken steps to adapt.  For example, whereas stock was once purchased outright, Sid has now negotiated deals with suppliers for returnable product.  Rather than sitting on the shelves indefinitely, content that doesn’t move goes back to the warehouses from whence it came.  This helps keep the stores’ shelves fresh… and hott.

(pictured: me and Sid)

AAA news also has a loyal team of committed employees who are invested in the survival of the business.  In an occupational marketplace filled with poorly paying part-time jobs and disenchanted workers, Sid offers careers, full benefits, and workplace autonomy.  They are a team that, in his words, will “rise together and fall together”… only hopefully they won’t fall!

But an ardent workforce and an efficient workplace filled with a vast array of current and in-demand content doesn’t mean everyone has always been happy with AAA News.

Sid told me about being picketed by Reverend Mark Weaver and his then-affiliate the American Family Association (AFA) in the early 1980s.  Back when anti-porn activism was at an all-time rabid high (think the Meese Commission) and any retailer with any sense would have been hiding behind their VHS racks with the biggest dildo in stock wielded for protection (well, at least that’s what I would have been doing!), Sid joined the AFA protesters and picketed his own store.  Yes, he marched around in front of his own business… in an attempt to gain some understanding of another side.

His experiences talking with protesters back in these days led him to the conclusion that most people who are vehemently anti-porn are also survivors of some sort of sexual trauma or abuse.  While being extremely sympathetic, Sid is of the mind that people who have survived such circumstances are “transferring the guilt of the individual [who had victimized them] to porn…they [can’t] accept the fact that their brother, for example, was a creep… so they blame porn.”

In other words, individuals’ personal struggles with abuse were somehow being transformed into motivation for attempting to limit the rights of others… the very same rights Sid had spent six years defending in the Army, and the very same rights that so many others had fought and died for.

…and it was experiences and realizations such as these that got Sid involved with the activist side of adult.

Sid has been involved with the adult industry’s trade and lobbying organization, Free Speech Coalition (FSC), for years; and he was recently elected the organization’s president!  Like any good incumbent, President Grief has some plans he hopes will further the organization’s mission, broaden its scope, and better serve the people who need it the most.

Following the NRA model, Sid hopes to strengthen the FSC at the national level and build up a series of regional chapters.  This will enable FSC-national to focus on bigger issues that may impact the entire adult entertainment community, such as the recent 2257 challenge and the .XXX sTLD proposal (more info on these issues here and here); and leave the regional organizations to focus on more local-level issues effecting area-specific members of the community, such as assistance dealing with time limitations and zoning restrictions.

And all I can say to that plan is – how can I help, and where do I sign up?

There is more to Sidney Grief than I could ever begin to describe here.  He’s a scuba diver, a US Army veteran, a Longhorn Alum (Class of 1984!), a world traveler, an activist, and a damn nice guy.  He summed up his overall mission in life nicely when he said “I’d like to leave this country as free as I found it… maybe even freer.”  I think he is doing an excellent job of meeting that goal

Since you’re all off the tubes now (right?!) and if you’re ever in the area, why don’t you stop by one of Sid’s stores?  You will be contributing to the local economy and indie spirit of Austin and supporting a man who has lived his life in support of yours.

(pictured above: Sid diving – always awesome!)

Conveniently listed addresses and phone numbers of AAA News, Inc.’s retail stores –

AAA News  11657 Research Blvd #101 Austin, TX 78759  (Ph: 512.343.1195)

XXXcite!  15316 North IH 35 Austin, TX 78728  (Ph: 512.990.2144)

DiscountMAXXX  6524 South Congress Ave. Austin, TX 78745  (Ph: 512.445.6116)

 

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Images courtesy of me and my phone and Sid.

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