LIBERTYVILLE, Ill. (AP) — Even when you’ve known for months what’s coming, walking away from a 30-year business doesn’t begin to sink in until the space is empty and the keys are handed over.

“On one hand, I’m ready. On the other hand, this is my life,” Steve Strumberger mused the week before Christmas while tending to final details in his little storefront shop facing Cook Park in downtown Libertyville.

At 85, Strumberger was prepared to call it a career. But he wouldn’t have left if he didn’t have to.

“It was my home here,” he said.

Like other small businesses, Steve’s Formal Wear & Tailors was sunk by the unrelenting coronavirus pandemic.

“There are no proms, no weddings. People don’t go out anymore. Since March, nothing,” said Strumberger, whose life’s work has been making people look good for special events.

At one time, he’d rent 100 tuxedos during prom season. Weddings was its own market. For Christmas, Strumberger said, he’d rent about 50 tuxedos. Not this year.

“The pandemic hit this type of business -- and many others -- at the worst possible time,” said Jennifer Johnson, executive director of MainStreet Libertyville, a downtown revitalization/promotional group.

“With proms and other formal events canceled or postponed since March, and restrictions on gatherings, the primary revenue stream disappeared instantly,” she added.

Strumberger found his own slice of the American dream upon arrival in Chicago from the former Yugoslavia.

“In 1956, I came to the greatest country in the world -- America. You can do anything you want,” he said, his native accent still evident.

His first job was as a tailor at the former Lytton’s menswear store in downtown Chicago. At that time, customers came in wearing suits, ties and hats, he said.

He moved to other jobs and was clothing manager for Mark Shale in Northbrook Court mall when he decided to open his own tuxedo shop. After two years in Mundelein, Strumberger moved to an 800-square-foot space at the prominent corner of Milwaukee and Cook avenues in Libertyville.

“When I came here, it was a ghost town,” he recalled. But the new MainStreet organization was gaining momentum and the community was growing.

He became well known around town, often spending down time on a bench in Cook Park or in front of his shop, conversing with passersby.

“Steve’s a people person,” said Mayor Terry Weppler, a lifelong resident who used Strumberger’s services for various functions over the years.

“We’re going to miss him and he’s going to miss us, but we’ll see him in the park,” Weppler said.

Besides the business, Strumberger was involved with soccer for 40 years. A goalkeeper, he played on the Chicago Select international team among others, and coached the Libertyville Spirit team.

In 2006, he was presented the Illinois State Soccer Association Hall of Fame’s Meritorious Service Award in recognition of outstanding achievement and service to the sport.

Strumberger also was a drummer in various incarnations of a Bavarian band playing old world music at festivals and other events.

“Steve is one of a kind. His band often played our Oktoberfest parties,” said Brian Grano, owner of Mickey Finn’s Brewery, which has been in business downtown nearly as long as the tailor shop. “One of the friendliest and (most) positive people I know.”

Strumberger had been paying rent out of his own pocket the past nine months and decided it was time to go.

His lease ended last week, but he was given time to dispense of the remaining inventory of about 80 tuxedos, 70 pairs of dress shoes and a box of hats. What couldn’t be sold was donated.

The tailor plans to stay in Libertyville.

“I was active. That’s why it’s going to be hard,” he said of closing the shop. “When it comes time for fishing, I’ll be at Lake Minear.”


Source: (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald,