Stephen Kerzner, director of Woodmere’s museum store and services, insists: “I don’t buy for me…I deal with the customer in mind. I want everything to be unique, distinctive, one-of-a-kind.” (Photo courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum)

by Lou Mancinelli

If succeeding for 35 years in high-end fashion retail selling and buying the work of some of the world’s most prestigious designers is any indication of one’s artistic taste, then it’s no wonder one finds such gems at the Woodmere Art Museum store.

“It’s all about the psychology of selling,” said Stephen Kerzner, director of Woodmere’s museum store and services. “I don’t buy for me…I deal with the customer in mind. I want everything to be unique, distinctive, one-of-a-kind.”

Kerzner took over as director of the museum store last fall. One can look for the store to take on an interesting array of items from ceramics to rings, bracelets and earrings to interestingly adorned teapots.

“Thirty-five years in retail is making sure everybody is accommodated,” said Kerzner, who requested that his age be withheld. “It’s not, do I like it,” he said about selecting products for clients, “but do I think the customer will like it?”

Since 2006, Kerzner worked for the museum one day a week, Sunday. He had moved to Germantown the previous year, needed a change and longed to live in a community. He started volunteering and still volunteers with groups like Face to Face, a program based at St. Vincent’s Church in Germantown that helps feed the homeless.

“I was always referred to as the Sunday person,” said Kerzner about his time at Woodmere. That is, until his former boss, Lori Hines, left the position for another museum last fall.

In the 1970s, after taking a job to pass time at a now-defunct store in Center City, Kerzner realized he had discovered his obsession. Shortly afterwards he moved to New York City, where he started to work for Yves St. Tropez, one of the world’s leading boutiques. A 2006 New York Times article described it as a designer that changed the face of ’70s Parisian chic.

“It was my world,” said Kerzner. “Living in New York; doing the shows in Paris and Milan.”

But before life along the runway, Kerzner had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1970s with a bachelor’s degree in biogenetics. But instead of entering the medical field, he submerged himself in the world of fashion. In aesthetics and the precision of style, Kerzner discovered his way of connecting with people.

If he could continue to listen to people and put then in clothing that made them feel good, he could continue life in high fashion. And so he did.

“It’s not as much about the item as it is about the customer experience,” Kerzner said. “It comes down to talking to people, listening to people and trying to figure out what they want.” And whether you’re selling someone an ultra-pricey cashmere sweater or a $15 pair of earrings, “it has to be eye candy.”

Raised in Philadelphia, Kerzner moved from New York back to Center City in 1980, where he lived for 25 years. He worked at Kenneth & Cooper, which used to be located in Center City, Toby Lerner in Ardmore and Polo Ralph Lauren in Center City.

Kerzner has prided himself on being able to always provide clients with quality items at all price points. That was his goal in the world of fashion, and that is his goal at Woodmere. The fun for Kerzner is walking the line between quality and affordability and finding craftspeople who are creating distinct items.

He’s contracted with popular artisans like Amy Ragsdale and is promoting the work of locals like Chestnut Hill jewelry maker J. Rudy Lewis. On Saturday, May 4, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the store will host a meet-the-artist event, where area residents can meet some of the makers of the items carried at the store.

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