Local entrepreneur sees a future in a gentlemanly escort service

Local entrepreneur sees a future in a gentlemanly escort service

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Kathleen Murphy Colan

Special to The Plain Dealer

Ladies, when the invitation says plus one, and you don't have a plus one, what do you do?

Cleveland resident Ruth Johnston has the solution — her escort service, Valentino's Rent a Gent.

Johnston, 48, is banking on her belief that Northeast Ohio women want to enjoy a glamorous night on the town with a gentleman without all the romantic pressures.

"This is a choice for women who know what they want, " she says.

She says that she likes to think of her service as providing the ultimate accessory for the girl who has everything. Except a date.

Valentino's Rent a Gent is strictly an escort service, so don't even think about cracking any jokes. For $50 an hour, Johnston provides a date from her group of well-spoken single escorts whose backgrounds have been heavily checked. They range in age from their 20s to their 70s. (Check them out at www.rentagent.net.)

Each Valentino's guy offers red-carpet treatment. He brings chocolate and flowers, opens doors, stands when you stand and generally fills the bill of a well-mannered date. He is required to wear a dark suit, white shirt, tie and shiny shoes (unless it's a more casual date). He'll also plot with you before the event to determine if he will be escorting you under the guise of an old friend, a new lover or a second cousin.

"If you're a Valentino's guy, you have to meet a certain standard," says Gent Paul Thomas, 36.

Johnston handpicked her guys after interviews with dozens of area men who responded to ads she placed in newspapers. She says she based her choices on "gentlemanly qualities," including manners, language and neat appearance.

With longtime experience in customer service with the Cleveland Indians, Johnston says she regularly came in contact with women who were longing for "just a companion, not romantic, but just someone to keep them company out in public," she says.

When she semiretired in 2004, she found herself getting bored.

"I had the idea for this business for a long time, and I just decided to go for it," she says.

"The only risk I'm taking is [with] my reputation."

Her big idea already has passed the mother test. Last year, Johnston's widowed mother, who's in her 70s, went to dinner with one of the Gents and enthusiastically told Johnston she would do it again.

"A lot of older women just want someone to help them out of the house, into the car and into a restaurant or theater," Johnston says.

As far as providing anything more than good conversation, the Gents are prohibited from touching, drinking, smoking and a host of other questionable activities. Of course, the ladies take care of all costs for the evening. Johnston splits the hourly fee with the Gents 50-50.

Since launching the Web site in November, Johnston has booked a handful of dates and hopes to expand the company's services in the future.

Cleveland is the test market for the concept. She hopes to expand to Miami.

"There are a lot of wealthy, older women with no husbands there," she says.

Colan is a free-lance writer from Cleveland Heights.

To reach Kathleen Murphy Colan:

pdq@plaind.com

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