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July 18, 2008

Body Language to be sold

Cleveland--After owning the longest-running LGBT store in the city for 15 years, Paul Zeitzew has found a new owner for Body Language, a fixture at West 115th Street and Lorain Avenue.

Zeitzew has brought in Steve Swerdlow who will over the next five years take an increasing share in the business.

The store was founded by Linus Herrell and Ray Burton in 1984. Herrell’s partner Steve Schochet bought it from him when his health began to deteriorate prior to his death in 1990.

Three years later, Schochet sold it to Zeitzew, who has tripled the store’s sales, both through selling merchandise over the internet and increasing the establishment’s commitment to customer service.

Swerdlow, 44, came on in April, and Zeitzew will transfer shares in the store to him each year, finally completing the change in ownership in 2013, a year before Body Language’s 30th anniversary.

Swerdlow’s participation has already allowed Zeitzew to move to a four-day work week, and he will soon be coming in only three days a week.

“I’m 76,” Zeitzew said. “I want to retire.”

“I never thought I’d be selling dildos this long,” he deadpanned.

There are some striking similarities between the current and future owners. Both sold menswear--Zeitzew hats, Swerdlow clothing--for years before moving into sex toys, videos, books and rainbow Pride paraphernalia.

“It’s amazing how you can take experience from one retail environment to any other retail environment,” Swerdlow said. “This one is just a lot more fun.”

Both are Jewish, both have children, and both use the job as a way to more fully integrate their sexual orientation into their lives.

Aiding in the transition is the low turnover rate of the staff, who are not bound behind their counter.

“Our salespeople don’t just sit behind the desk, they educate people on the products,” said Swerdlow, who noted the importance of that help when a customer comes in who is interested in a certain fetish but does not have a background in it.

The store established its credentials and dedication to Cleveland’s LGBT community under Herrell, and Zeitzew made sure that commitment remained in place. Over the years, he had donated items to dozens of community events.

“We have been dedicated to the community, and we intend to keep that,” he said.

One fixture of the store is the LGBT book section, which has not made money for Body Language in years, especially with the rise of Borders, Barnes and Noble and the online discount book retailers like Amazon. However, Zeitzew and Swerdlow insist that the books be there, satisfying the mind as much of the rest of their stock satisfies the libido.



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