Verona Sports Center owner Ben Leuzzi has seen the highs and lows of owning the sporting goods business in his 41 years.
The former down-on-his-luck stockbroker began working for the store’s previous owner in July 1972 while he was unemployed.
Three months later, Leuzzi bought the business and began his lengthy career supplying, resupplying, repairing and customizing athletic gear for the people of Verona and beyond.
Leuzzi, accompanied by his dog Madison, discussed with Verona-Cedar Grove Patch how his business has survived the economic downturn, how he competes against chain sporting goods stores, retirement and more.
Why sporting goods?
I was out of a job. I was a stockbroker, going broke. A fellow started the business and three months later I bought him out.
We used to be on (Montrose Avenue and Bloomfield Avenue), now we’re on Lakeside and Bloomfield.
How have you endured the economic ups and downs of the last 40 years?
As you know, we are in a recession. The last five years have been difficult. This town is tough for businesses. We’re in between several malls, Livingston, Willowbrook…These last 10 years have been difficult, but the last five have been the most difficult and it’s not getting better; it’s getting worse.
These are tough times and this is the worst it’s been (since I started).
Why do people come to Verona Sports Center instead of Modell’s or Sports Authority or any of the nationwide chains?
People come here because of the service. We have service, that’s our key. We are also a specialty shop. (The customer) can do things here and get things that they don’t get elsewhere.
We started as a skate store – I coach hockey and I own some amateur teams – so we always did that… sharpening and repairing skates... But we also do lettering for uniforms; we make team uniforms for schools and (recreation) teams and varsity jackets, which are all made from scratch.
You’ve been here for 40 years; how much longer before you retire?
That’s a good question. I’m assuming I’ll retire in a couple years…I’d like to sell the business to someone who will continue it and be around for a long time. I’m not looking to sell right now, unless I get a surprise.
What is one thing about your business people don’t realize that you wish they did?
They don’t realize that we are as competitive with prices as any mall store…better in many cases. Today’s generation is of a mall mentality. They think they’ll get a better deal at the mall.
I have people come in (a father who is shopping for his son) whose father brought him here when he was a kid…(Maybe they forgot about me) and I’ll renew the relationship. The service is better at a small business like this, and it’s convenient if you live locally. You don’t get good service at the mall.
I can fix anything I carry, I can customize it. That’s what keeps us going.
Verona Sports Center is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m.–7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Their phone number is (973) 239-2398. For more information, click here.