Retro Ruckus

A fixture on Cleveland's kitsch scene burns his vintage bridges

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In the meantime, she was formulating her own plans for a new shop.

"I just needed a break after 20 years," she says of her hasty return to resale. "It's the only thing I know how to do."

In September 2010, she opened Deering Vintage on West 14th Street in Tremont, in a space about a third the size of Suite Lorain. Rather than fussing with multiple dealers, she featured only her own stock.

By the time winter blew in, it was clear to Deering that Lewis had no intention of making good on his payments. Not only was he stiffing her to the tune of $50,000: He was giving her a hard time about getting back merchandise that he'd agreed to let her store at Sweet Lorain.

"I thought we'd be working together. We had such a good relationship. I thought I would be helping with the transition," says Deering. "He did not want me there. And he would not let me get my stuff."

Glazen backs her up. He says he and Deering's boyfriend, Velvet Tango Room owner Paulius Nasvytis, accompanied her to Sweet Lorain. "I went there with Paulius to witness him denying her the ability to get merchandise from the store which is clearly hers," says Glazen. "That was the first and last time I ever met the guy."

Fearing she was out of options, Deering filed a civil suit against Lewis in December — the same time criminal charges were filed against him for stealing from Presser.

Lewis has dodged the charges for most of 2011, responding in a legal filing that Deering had committed fraud, misleading him about what was included in the sale and about how well the business had been doing before it changed hands.

When reached at his store, Lewis declined to talk about his dealings with Deering or other vendors. But in court filings, he said she falsely claimed that items in the store belonged to her when they actually belonged to other vendors, and that she "surreptitiously removed" items that were included in the sale. Deering responds that Lewis was well aware who owned what, yet he took items that were hers for his own collection. He admits he's done that, but says he claimed the items as his own "in lieu of cleaning up her crap."

Lewis' court papers added more vague claims that Deering had been "frightening and/or upsetting vendors, causing them to leave."

In fact, many of Deering's 16 former vendors have left Sweet Lorain for a variety of reasons. One of them is Dave Jackson, a dealer of tiki-style collectibles. "I tried to work with him, but he's a manipulator," Jackson says of Lewis. "People he can't manipulate, he forces out of the store." He adds that Lewis has given many ex-vendors a hard time about retrieving their merchandise.

Lewis says he now works with a half-dozen vendors, with the majority of the store's stock consisting of stuff he's acquired over the years.

At the new shop in Tremont, Deering struggled. And when her landlord raised the rent, she moved again — this time to a former florist shop on a red-hot strip of West 25th in Ohio City, in the middle of a block of hip locally owned businesses that have all opened in the last year: among them a vegan bakery, a bicycle shop, a store specializing in custom baseball bats, and a Mexican restaurant spun off from a stand in the nearby West Side Market.

Over on West 25th on a Saturday evening, Deering and a longtime associate are tackling the piles and boxes of merchandise she's moved into the new space in anticipation of their early October opening. She's painted the new place a soft retro lavender and brought in her collection of old clothing, her boxes of '50s and '60s movie stills, her menus from long-gone restaurants where the whole family could eat for less than ten dollars. She's got plans to use the old florist refrigerator as a display case.

On top of one box, there's a large fishbowl filled with anonymous old snapshots of ordinary people with a sign reading "Instant Relatives — 50 cents."

That, she says, was Tom Wilson's idea — an example of his wry Ziggy humor. The fishbowl back at Sweet Lorain is among the stuff Lewis won't return to her.

Despite the acrimony, Deering says she loves the changes Lewis has made to Sweet Lorain — the way he's grouped merchandise by type and era, rather than separating dealers into their own spots, as is typically done in consignment shops. But she doesn't understand his reluctance to honor their deal.

"He's obviously doing well," she says, noting the full parking lots at his store most days. "It's not like he doesn't have the money. He's arguing over hangers."

Glazen doesn't get it either.

"Cindy is a good, honest woman," he says. "She has had a lot of struggle and a lot of success, and is really into what she does. To see someone take advantage of that says something about him. Why would you cheat someone like Cindy? Redwin's a bad boy."

On August 25, Lewis pleaded guilty to stealing from Presser, who settled for restitution of $5,000.

Deering's civil case is ongoing. In early September, Lewis agreed to put payments into an escrow account while he and Deering resolved their differences. Deering says he finally did so at the end of September — well after the court-ordered deadline. A pretrial hearing is set for October 28.

On September 27, Presser appeared in court for Lewis' sentencing.

"I made it very clear I did not want to see him go to jail," Presser recalls saying before Judge Lance Mason. "I made it clear I wanted to get my money quickly — not in dribs and drabs over a long period of time."

The judge agreed, ordering Lewis to pay the $5,000 over five months in $1,000 increments. Presser was taken aback at what followed.

"Now is the time to say you are sorry,'" Presser remembers the judge demanding to Lewis.

"He wouldn't. The judge asked him again in a nice way. He wouldn't. The judge said, 'I don't like sending people to jail, but I also have to let you understand that most victims who come to court ask for a jail sentence. This one is being nice. You already admitted to guilt, and you're showing no remorse.'"

The judge asked again, and again Lewis refused to make nice. So Mason slapped him with 45 days in jail. He was cuffed and taken away, then granted five days of freedom to handle business matters. On October 3, he reported to the Cuyahoga County Jail.

"All he had to do was turn around and look me in the eye and say, 'I'm sorry' — even if he was lying," says Presser. "Even if he had his toes and fingers crossed."

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