If you walk inside Tykables, a shop in a suburb of Chicago, you could be forgiven for momentarily thinking you’ve entered a store for newborns and their parents.
You might notice the crib against a wall, the rocking horse and high chair in the middle of the room, or the “diaper tree” stacked 6-feet-tall.
But as you take a closer look, you’ll see that each item is strangely adult-size or that the store’s owner has traded slacks and a button-up for a pink T-shirt and a puffy white diaper.
Adult Baby Diaper Lovers (or ABDL), as the National Geographic show “Taboo” explains, is a form of fantasy role-playing in which adults temporarily regress to babylike behaviors. And this store in Mount Prospect, Ill., appeals to this demographic.
Participants might play with children’s toys, lie inside giant cribs, speak in gibberish, suck on pacifiers, ask to be spoon fed and wear adult-size diapers. For some, the role-playing is a fetish associated with sexual arousal, but for others it’s merely a form of relaxation.
“We definitely want people to fill the space with things for people to come and play, take pictures,” John-Michael “Tod” Williams, the store’s 30-year-old owner, says in a YouTube video introducing his company’s first brick and mortar store. “Not everybody has access to a nursery, so one of the things we wanted to do was provide one.”
There are adult diaper communities on Facebook with photos of grown-ups sucking their thumbs and guides to diaper purchasing.
The practice — which is formally known as “paraphilic infantilism” for those who are sexually aroused — is not limited to one group of people or sexuality, according to Psychology Today.
“Adult baby syndrome is still a new entity for psychiatrists, and there are undoubtedly variations within the syndrome. [One of the cases said] that he wanted someone to ‘make him be a baby’ evokes images of the sadomasochistic scenarios enacted by a dominatrix and her clients.
The wish to be treated as a baby is probably a spectrum condition that has many manifestations involving men, women, heterosexuals, bisexuals, and homosexuals.”
Unsurprisingly, not everyone in the Chicago suburb wants access to one of these stores. Since the physical shop opened in April, Williams’s entrepreneurial spirit has gone unappreciated by some residents who are furious that a store catering to ABDL enthusiasts exists in their pleasant town about 20 miles northwest of Chicago.
On Tuesday, dozens of locals showed up at a village board meeting to demand that local authorities shut down Tykables or force the ownership to relocate. Residents said they were concerned about the business’s effect on children at a school several blocks away, as well as how the new location would affect property values. Many of the residents — who appeared confused and admitted knowing nothing about ABDL — equated the community with pedophilia and prostitution.
“He’s getting his party going in there, and we’re supposed to sit back and watch,” one resident said at the meeting.
“They’re not having sex with their diapers on, they’re having people feed them and act like a baby,” another added.
Speaking to the assembled residents at a village hall, Mayor Arlene A. Juracek called the business “a mayor’s worst nightmare.” She urged residents to avoid viewing Williams’s promotional video, noting that it has a “big ick factor” and “you can’t un-view it once you see it.”
“It’s a business that many people find at best distasteful, but that is legal and for which no zoning or village board approval is required,” she said, noting that there were no code restrictions to justify a business license denial.
“I personally surmised that we’d encounter this with a restaurant with scantily clad wait staff that wanted to coming in,” she added. “I could never have imaged the situation that we’ve encountered here today. All of us are surprised and amazed, you know, with what we have before us.”
Williams told The Washington Post that he wished the mayor had used softer language, and he labeled much of the community’s rhetoric as “misplaced fear,” much of it coming from parents who are obligated to protect their children and ignorant about the ABDL lifestyle.
“The ABDL community has nothing to do with children,” Williams told The Post. “They don’t want to be with a child, they want to be the child.”
Williams said the community caters to a variety of people who are interested in age regression for different reasons. Some clients find the practice sexually arousing, he said, but many others are drawn to the products for stress relief and anxiety management.
“We also have many customers on the autism spectrum because our products are a security blanket for some of them,” he said, comparing clients who see the practice as a fetish to a person who might role play as a police officer or maid in the bedroom.
As for concerns about property values, he pointed out that before Tykables arrived, its building had been abandoned for years. In addition to cleaning the building and getting it up to code, he said his business is giving the city sales tax revenue that was absent before.
White panels cover the store windows. To get inside, customers are required to set up an appointment.
Outside of this week’s meeting, Williams said he hasn’t received any complaints, threats or vandalism from locals. He said village officials have treated him “fairly” and “professionally” and he expects that to continue.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Village Attorney Lance Malina addressed the residents and said there’s little local officials can do shut down Tykables, unless Williams breaks the law or they pursue possible amendments to the community’s zoning laws. While reviewing applications for a zoning certificate and a business license in March, Malina said he quickly determined that there was no basis for denying Tykables the right to open.
“Oversized toys that would normally be used by an infant, but are created and constructed oversized so that an adult may use them are not illegal,” he told the community. “I saw nothing that could potentially be made illegal.”
At the same meeting, Village Manager Michael Cassady agreed.
“The owner did agree to remove the colorful lego-like building blocks from the front window,” Cassady said Tuesday. “He did state that all employees are fully clothed. We think that business is operating in a way that is consistent with zoning.”
Williams said people outside the ABDL community underestimate its popularity, noting that he has customers all around the world. Citing competition, he declined to share the scale of his profits, but said Tykables exceeded its quarterly revenue goals during its first 60 days of business. He attributes much of his success to having a physical location.
What’s his ABDL sales pitch?
“Imagine being carefree for a couple hours of the day, or more,” he told The Post. “That, by itself, is something that people can kind of grasp. It’s the idea of letting stress go. For others, it’s more of a sensory experience — like having a comfort blanket with you all the time.”