Uniforms generally are not fun. This is not an exhilarating business, nor is it the most fascinating thing to discuss at parties with those not in the industry. Yet Lewis Uniform Company in Syracuse, New York, is making it just that. From the pets that reside in the store to the casual joking of the owner, Lewis Uniform is the kind of store where you stop to pick up a single item and end up spending an hour chatting with salespeople and other customers.
It all seems to center around heart, both literally and figuratively.
Heart is part of how Betty Wiese came to be the current owner. Then-owner Stuart Krupkin needed emergency by-pass surgery. Wiese says, I took him to the hospital, and then drove to the store. I sat there and asked myself, 'What in the world do I do now?' I couldn't let my friend lose his life's work, so I made some phone calls and learned the business... quickly." Heart is also why so many of the suppliers kept shipping during that difficult time even when she couldn't pay them.
She had known Krupkin many years before she started working for him part-time as a tailor in 1991. But it wasn't until 1998 when he needed the surgery that she realized just how family-like the business is. She became a full-time manager and made an offer when Krupkin decided to retire.
He had started Lewis Uniform Company in 1957 as a department of his father's haberdashery to provide uniforms to police and military officers in Upstate New York. In 1964, he moved the business to Syracuse and added fire departments, customs and immigration officials, and postal workers to the list of customers served.
"The store currently serves over 200 fire departments as well as police departments, postal, security and EMS personnel," says Wiese. "The newest focus is on nursing apparel with a growing $10 scrubs business."
"Lewis Uniform Company is, quite frankly, a fun place to shop and hang out. The air is filled with laughter because we refuse to take ourselves too seriously," Betty Wiese says.
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