After nearly 58 years in one spot, after tens of thousands of shiny new vacuum cleaners sold and thousands of models repaired, United Vacuum Cleaner got swept away.
Its big neighbor, Akron Children’s Hospital, had purchased the sweeper store’s aging brick building on West Exchange Street to make way for an expansion project.
But this isn’t a story about one more mom-and-pop business that got bulldozed into oblivion by change.
Anthony “Tony” Bologna, the second-generation owner of the United Vacuum Cleaner/Good Housekeeper Appliance store and repair shop, says it wasn’t time to hang up his life’s work.
He moved the operation last month to a small shopping strip at 1604 Home Ave. in North Akron.
“Our family has been blessed with good genes. I’m not ready to retire,” said the 60-plus-year-old resident of Akron. “We never got rich from this business, but it did me and my family well.”
Bologna leases space at the new location, near the Chapel Hill area, as he did at the West Exchange building.
The new site — like the old store — is an old-school, no-frills operation that thrives on service, not being flashy.
The display area — featuring neat rows of new vacuums and those that have been serviced — is bigger, and the sales counter is longer. “We’re not so cluttered,” he said.
He stresses that he feels no ill will toward the hospital, and has assured customers he is not upset at having to move, telling them, “I don’t mind stepping aside for progress.”
The hospital’s expansion will include a six-story parking deck, now under construction along West Exchange Street. Wally Waffle, an area favorite restaurant, was next door to United Vacuum and has moved to Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood.
“It’s bittersweet,” Bologna said. “My uncle started this business back in 1954, and I grew up in that store” on West Exchange.
At the same time, he noted, his family has a “very close connection” with the hospital. He explained that his wife, Linda, volunteered at the hospital for more than 10 years. Also, a granddaughter, who was born premature, spent two months in the neonatal unit.
Akron city’s development manager, Adele Roth, is relieved that Bologna is planting new roots in Akron. “You’re always glad that development is occurring, like Children’s expanding,” she said. “At the same time, you don’t want somebody’s good news to turn into somebody else’s bad news.”
Bologna joined United Vacuum in the mid-1960s, and today has second- and third-generation customers. When he came aboard, the shop was still one of Royal’s United Good Housekeeper stores. His uncle and aunt, Vincent and Gladys Bologna, who are both now deceased, opened the place in 1954.
At the Home Avenue location, Bologna plans to continue with his old-school custom of wearing a pressed white shirt and tie every day.
For a few days during the move, he wore jeans and a T-shirt. “Customers said, ‘It’s just not you,’ ” Bologna said.
Bologna said his trademark dress gives him an edge, especially when it comes to meeting with commercial clients. He sells and services vacuums for local universities, school districts, and private janitorial and maid services, among others.
Commercial accounts generate a big chunk of the shop’s revenues these days.
“As the big-box stores became more competitive in new sales,” Bologna said, “we started to concentrate on, take more seriously the commercial side of the business.”
The store’s only other full-time employee, Mike Ronca, made the move to the new store. Ronca, who has worked at the store for more than four decades, does most of the repairs. The store sells and repairs sewing machines in addition to vacuums.
Bologna said old and new customers are finding him on Home Avenue. A big help, he said, is that he managed to keep the shop’s nearly 60-year-old telephone number, after a little polite tussle with AT&T.
“It took a month,” of phone calls and emails, Bologna said. “At first, AT&T wanted us to change to the 630 exchange in this area.” (The store’s phone number remains 330-376-7137.)
The store’s big, old, neon sign didn’t make the move. Bologna said it is too large for the spot he’s in now. He said he’s had some inquiries from potential buyers.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com.