If you’ve ever driven down Euclid Avenue in East Cleveland, you may have noticed the blue house at 13633 and the signs by the street: T & L Pest Control. T & L Christian Bookstore. You may have also seen the signs in the front windows: Choir & Clergy Robes. Bibles. Mice & Rat Bait. Wait, what? Now I’ve seen it all!
There’s more to this store than meets the eye, and for me personally, it’s been a second home. Over the years, my daughters and I spent a lot of time browsing books, purchasing worship music, and gathering materials needed for ministry. T and L even brought my husband and me together: Derrick and I got reacquainted upon him becoming the manager at T and L Christian bookstore, and we later married in September 2012.
Just 10 months into our journey together as husband and wife, tragedy struck our family in the worst way possible. In the summer of 2013 my youngest daughter never made it home from her summer job. We later learned that she was kidnapped and murdered at the hands of a serial killer.
I will never forget the love and generosity of store owner Larry Wolf and the staff, who offered extra support for our family as we attended meetings with law enforcement and court sessions. The cards and prayer we received from clergy, customers, and the community helped our family get through this traumatic experience.
T and L is now working to “heal the heart of the East Cleveland community,” says current owner Brian Nyerges, like it helped to heal mine.
How it all started at T and L
The Christian bookstore has been in business in East Cleveland since 1964, and it carries Christian books, Bibles, gift items, gospel tracks, clergy wear, church supplies, and pest control products. The store is owned by Iris and Brian Nyerges; Brian inherited the store from his late wife’s father, Larry Wolf, after Larry died in 2018.
Larry was an expert exterminator, and his wife Val was a devout Christian. She had a passion for Christian literature and spiritual knowledge, and she told her husband about her desire to open a bookstore dedicated to others who share the same love for the Lord and who are in need of encouragement, prayer, and spiritual support. Larry decided to honor her request by opening both businesses in one location.
Since then, T and L has become more than just a bookstore – and definitely more than just an exterminating product shop. Under the enthusiastic leadership of Brian, his wife Iris, and store manager Derrick Minor, it’s become a community destination, an active Christian ministry, and a base for neighborhood activism and belief in a strong future for East Cleveland.
Deep roots in the neighborhood
T and L Christian bookstore has been serving generations of families since the 1960s. Manager Derrick Minor said customers often remind him that they received their first Bible here, or they recall visiting the store with their grandparents.
The store was at a different nearby location (at Euclid Ave. and Superior Ave.) until Larry bought the current location at 13633 Euclid Ave. in 1984 from the Glover Memorial Funeral Home.
Patricia McPherson was 5 years old when she moved to East Cleveland in 1963, and she remembers a safe, stable neighborhood and playing in Pattison Park and Forest Hills Park with her five siblings. She recalls visiting Shaw Lanes Bowling Alley, going to the movies at the Continental Art Theatre – and going to T and L Christian Bookstore. This area has suffered greatly from disinvestment in the decades since, but T and L is there, and she still patronizes the business today.
Growing the business
Larry, the original owner, didn’t follow a straight path to founding T and L. He was a jack-of-all-trades, trying out landscaping, running a security company, and other jobs before settling on exterminating, says Brian. “Exterminating was the one that really took off for him,” said Brian. “His exterminating business was his reason for success. And it’s kind of why this place exists.”
Larry didn’t make traditional business decisions, and Brian and Derrick both smile and shake their heads when they talk about him – we all remember him as a colorful character who approached things in unconventional ways. If he could get a great price per unit of an item, says Brian, Larry would buy a huge amount without a plan for how to sell it. Now, Brian, together with Iris, is trying to professionalize the business a bit more, including cataloging the store’s inventory, much of which is stored in the store’s spacious, high-ceilinged third floor, which was a ballroom back when the building was a grand home.
Brian has been taking business classes at Tri-C, and he’s also participating in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, which is a small business bootcamp and mentorship program.
Brian is changing things at the store. When a first-floor front window recently needed to be replaced – it was hit by stray nighttime gunfire – Brian discovered that the framing and the wall around the window was aging and also needed work. This turned into a bigger construction project at the front of the store. When it’s done, T and L will be able to feature more products on the first floor where they are more accessible to customers.
In recent years, T and L Bookstore has also moved away from the exterminating part of the business. Larry’s son Edward Wolf runs T and L Pest Control from Canton, where he still serves Northeast Ohio and other areas of Ohio. T and L Bookstore still stocks exterminating chemicals in East Cleveland, though, and customers regularly come in to buy them.
Brian took on the ownership and running of T and L – Larry had asked him, “Do you want it?” – because of his deep Christian faith and desire to contribute to the East Cleveland community, and not because it’s a big moneymaker. “If I was looking at just a pure profit, I would’ve walked away,” said Brian.
Connecting with – and ministering to – the community
T and L provides consignment opportunities to local Christian crafters and is planning to help other local entrepreneurs sell their goods. The bookstore is looking to host more community outreach events. Brian and staff partner with other ministries to host outdoor outreach events, prayer, gospel concerts, book signings for local Christian authors, and seminars for aspiring Christian authors.
Sharing the Gospel is at the heart of what Brian and his staff is doing at the bookstore. It’s a ministry, sometimes with music, sometimes with a pastor – and they’ll offer to pray with anyone who walks up. Brian says people will wander over to the bookstore to see what’s going on and maybe to talk. Sometimes, they tell Brian that Jesus doesn’t want them. Sometimes, they cry. Sometimes, they’re in physical pain and feel it lifted away during prayer. One time, Brian says, “a notorious gangster” told them he needed to change, that he needed Jesus, “and he completely gave his heart and changed right then.” Jesus loves gangsters, Brian told him.
“I see us as a change agent in this area,” said Brian. “That’s our real calling, you know, to unite the community, to change this area.”
A lifeline for the community
T and L is a lifeline for the community, says Brian, and he’s right. It’s kind of like “Cheers,” where you can just walk in and know everyone and feel comfortable – I could spend hours there. For me, it’s been a place of healing during hard times in my life. It’s a safe space of prayer and encouragement. A big part of what makes T and L so special is that they have a heart that just wants to love the community.
Brian talks a lot about East Cleveland and what it needs to thrive – it needs buildings fixed, for sure, but he says it also needs spiritual help. It needs to root out corruption in leadership. It needs to win out over the drugs and prostitution and alcohol addiction that’s all around.
Brian doesn’t plan to go anywhere. He’s optimistic about East Cleveland, because he sees a groundswell of people coming together who care about the community – business owners, residents, community leaders.
New local customers are coming, too. Recently, I met customer Brittany Wise-Gilmore at the store. This was the first time her daughter Cherish experienced being in a Christian bookstore, and she loved seeing the section of books just for kids. Cherish was excited to pick out her own cross necklace and purchase her own books. Another generation is making memories of shopping at T and L.
T and L Christian Bookstore is located at 13633 Euclid Ave., East Cleveland and can be reached at (216) 541-3200. T and L Pest Control is at 700 12th St. NW, Canton, and can be reached at (330) 456-0956.
Belinda M. Minor was a participant in The Land’s community journalism program.
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