Hard work never scared Mike Kruter, and running a business is in his blood, he says.
Kruter, the owner of Lifestyles Sports, on Wantagh Avenue, was honored as the 2021 Wantagh Chamber of Commerce Businessperson of the Year at the Nassau Council of Chambers’ annual awards breakfast at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury on Oct. 29.
The Bellmore resident and his wife, Valene, started the business 45 years ago in Brooklyn, and moved it to Wantagh about 30 years ago. Last year they expanded the store.
“Wantagh is an amazing community, with very loyal families,” Kruter said. “It reminds me of a town from the Midwest, because people grow up here, go away to school and come back and start their own families here.”
It’s important to be involved in the community, Valene said. “It’s important to take an interest in the people around you and the people that support you,” she said.
The store caters to sports enthusiasts, with all of the equipment and uniforms they may need. It offers in-house printing and embroidery, for those who want to customize uniforms.
“Without them, there’s no us,” Mike said of his customers. He and Valene, he said, have worked at the store seven days a week for four and a half decades.
Their three children — Brandon, 33, and twins Andrew and Taylor, 29 — all decided to get involved in the family business over the past seven years. Mike said that they’ve helped the business grow tremendously, especially by creating a website and online store.
“I’m glad my kids have shown an interest in the business,” Valene said. “They brought it to the next level, and they’re going to wind up taking it over. It’s all up to them.”
The store recently joined forces with a company, Trellus, that helps store workers complete same-day deliveries across Long Island. “This will be very important for the holidays,” Mike said. “It’s important for a small business to offer this kind of service for a customer.”
About 16 years ago, the Kruters purchased Robinhood Workwear, a Merrick company that produced outerwear, and incorporated it into their business. Robinhood offers clothes, shoes and accessories, and features well-known brands like Patagonia. Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, the business bought Long Island Scrubs as well, and now has three businesses operating in one storefront.
L.I. Scrubs helped the storefront stay open throughout the pandemic, Mike said: Because it sells medical uniforms, it was deemed essential.
The community, he said, has helped his business stay afloat since the pandemic began. “Everything that we’ve done has made our business very diversified,” he said. “My wife, children and I know that the number one priority to our business is our customers and our customer service. Right after that is our pricing.” The store’s prices, he said, are equivalent to, or lower than, those of big retailers like Amazon.
Lifestyle Sports has been a member of the Wantagh Chamber of Commerce for over 25 years. “We always try to give back,” Mike said, “because without them” — loyal community members — “we wouldn’t be here. People don’t realize that all of the mom-and-pop stores pay the local taxes. We help the community, and when people realize that, they won’t go order online. They’ll support the local businesses and restaurants and keep the community strong.”
During the pandemic, Lifestyles Sports helped the chamber raise $10,000 for local families in need. They created an online store, and sold over 1,000 “Wantagh Strong” T- shirts, which featured the outline of Long Island with the Wantagh School District’s black and yellow colors. “That gave us something really great to do during Covid,” Mike said. “It kept me busy, because I did a lot of the printing. It was great.”
Chamber President Cathy Powell said that the Kruters have helped out a lot during the pandemic. “Mike always had clothes for workers ready and in his store,” Powell said. “They pivoted and helped the community during this time.”
Running a business isn’t easy, Mike said — but having a great surrounding community certainly helps. “I’ve always loved doing what I do,” he said. “It’s not easy. I tell people, you’re looking at the janitor and the president of the company. When you’re a small businessperson, you do everything for the company.”