Pueblo's Vac Shoppe is a throwback business that keeps surviving

2021-12-23 08:04:08 By : Ms. Yolanda Zhong

A Pueblo business that just turned 40 has managed to survive two major economic downturns, a global pandemic and the popularity of Walmart and Amazon to keep its doors open. 

Wolfgang Heyn, also known as Johnny West from his younger country music entertaining days, celebrates the 40th anniversary of The Vac Shoppe, 3307 N. Elizabeth St., this year. Even he admits he is surprised he’s lasted this long. 

Yet on a recent afternoon, Heyn showed exactly why his throwback business — based on fixing things rather than throwing them away and buying new — continues to prevail. He had one customer with a clogged vacuum which he pledged to have fixed the very next day. 

“I pride myself on doing the job within 24 hours even if I have to stay until midnight to get it done,” Heyn said.  

He had to tell one woman her elderly vacuum cleaner was not worth saving once the motor started making an awful racket. He can't even find new motors for some older vacuums.

Heyn prefers quality vacuum cleaners like his 20-year-old shop vac which keeps on sucking up the dirt despite its age. 

It all started for Heyn when he moved to Colorado City in 1974. Back then, he and his wife Juanita ran four stores in Colorado City, Walsenburg, Trinidad and Raton. 

In that region, the economy depended on the coal mines and when they all closed, his businesses followed not long after. 

“I said to mama, ‘Let’s check out Pueblo,’” he said with a laugh. 

The couple opened The Vac Shoppe and Necchi Sewing Center in King’s Plaza at the corner of Northern and Prairie where Walgreens is today. 

She would focus on sewing machine sales, Heyn on the vacuum repairs and sales, while their youngest of fivchildren, Corbet, helped with repairs. 

At the very beginning, Pueblo was reeling from massive layoffs at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company steel mill. Later, two Walmarts and the online ordering giant Amazon would put a ding on their business. 

“We cannot compete with them (Walmart and Amazon) so we sell household and commercial vacs that have longevity. I cannot service all makes and models but I can service Hoover, Eureka, Kirby and most other major brands," Heyn said.

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The Shark and Dyson vacuums are two brands he can't fix because parts are not available.

“We offer bags, belts and accessories. That’s what keeps us in the minor profit margins — nobody carries that stuff and it’s hard to find bags, but they are still available here,” he explained. 

“Eventually we ended up on the North Side and Corbet kept running the South Side store for nine years until it closed,” Heyn said. 

Another rough patch came in 2008 when Pueblo suffered through a devastating economic downturn. Still, he bounced back and then last year the COVID pandemic hit. 

“Before COVID we did very good business with churches, restaurants, motels and even the city housing authority and fire department. But since churches, restaurants and motels were all shut down, it was a struggle for my business," Heyn said.

"It’s a challenge to try to build back up and the only way I can get on top and stay in business is to offer service and top-quality vacuums. Vacuums with features that are out of this world."

Just as he did before he lost his wife to cancer, Heyn continues to service, clean, oil and adjust most major brands of sewing machines too. 

As the years march on, many times he has helped several generations of the same family. 

"He has done it with a smile and six days a week,” Corbet Heyn said of his father. “If he charged everyone what he is supposed to, he’d probably be rich, but instead he gives just about everyone in need, and some who he just plain likes, a break.” 

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“Just now we are on the upswing from COVID and I think once people have had a chance to travel and go out to eat  they will get back to cleaning their floors,” he said, ever the eternal optimist. 

The Vac Shoppe is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The business phone is 545-5561. 

Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon covers business news. She can be reached by email at tharmon@chieftain.com or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.