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IT HELPS IF THE LANDLORD’S AN ‘UNCLE’

Vacuum

Ten questions for John and Rachel Decker, owners of Graman’s Vacuum & Appliance Parts Co. on Monmouth Street, at the corner of West Street. They live in Tinton Falls.

How long have you owned this business, and who had it before you?
John: We’ve been here for four years. I bought it from Gene Graman—“Uncle Gene,” though he’s no blood relation whatsoever. When I was growing up in River Plaza, Gene was the older guy in the neighborhood who never got married and had all the toys and all the fun: boats, motorcycles, Jet skis, snowmobiles, wave runners. My parents knew him before I was even born.

His shop was in Red Bank for 47 years, and in this location since 1964. He was previously closer to Broad on Monmouth Street. And surprisingly, there was a parking problem then, too.

He’s the landlord now, and that’s one of the reasons the business still exists—there isn’t a ridiculous rent we have to pay.

Rachel: It’s not cheap, but it is fair.

We understand you have every one of his financial ledgers going back to the beginning. What kind of story do they tell?
John: The story they tell is that people can say what they want about money and politics, but when national events occur, it affects the way they spend.

Rachel: When things are tough, people get things fixed. They’re not out buying left and right. But through all those years, through wars or economic crisis, this business has survived. Whether it be from sales or repairs, something floats us and keeps us in business.

How much did a vacuum cleaner sell for in the early days, and what do they go for now?
John: An average Hoover could have sold for $19 or $20 in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and even all the way up into the early ‘80s. You can still get a regular machine for $29.99 or $59.99, but there’s no quality in it whatsoever. If you’re going to compare quality, an Electrolux in the late 1950s sold for $300, and that was a lot of money then. Now, for the top Electrolux, you’re looking at a thousand bucks or more.

Have the machines changed much over the decades?
Rachel: Mostly filtration. People are really concerned about air quality and allergies. Before, you just had your bag and what came out, came out. Now people are into HEPA filters.

John: Most machines were metal back then, and the quality was a lot better—the craftsmanship of the motors, the factories were better set up. Now, it’s planned obsolescence.

Vacuum3_1

How do you two divide the duties here?
John: I put Rachel in charge of all administrative work. But she does know how to repair vacuum cleaners. She’s a trained technician.

Rachel: I put on my apron, my gloves. I’ve even got my own little set of tools. So I get elbow-deep into it, too.

John: It surprised Gene when he saw her working on vacuum cleaners, because this is a male-dominated field. But when he saw the pride and the craftsmanship that Rachel has—we had her take apart and put back together a Sharp motor, with just a little guidance from us, and when she was finished, she plugged it in, and it worked. He said, ‘You got it!’

Rachel: When we first took over, I had my own job as a graphic designer and was only here part time, and I felt bad, because John was here by himself a lot and would get inundated. So I said, ‘At least let me clean them up.’ And then I was like, ‘Show me how to fix it. Show me how to service a roller.’ So I learned from Gene and John.

Are you anxious about the effect that soaring real estate values and new development might have on your future?
John: I would definitely say that is a concern. Soaring property value is great when you want to cash out as an owner.

Rachel: When you don’t own the property, you’re at the mercy of somebody else. And that’s scary. If the landlord has to raise the rent because of a property revaluation, how do you just magically make up that money as a tenant?

John: One way or another, they’re going to build condos—or the last we heard, a hotel with stores—across the street. It’s great, but it means your taxes go up.

You’re in favor of the RiverCenter expansion to this side of town, even though it’ll mean higher taxes?
John: Absolutely. One-hundred percent.

Rachel: Something’s got to be done over here to bring in some foot traffic and to give the area a sprucing up. And this is the only good idea I’ve heard.

Are you worried that this side of town could become too upscale? Wouldn’t that threaten your business particularly?
John: Valid point. But knowing the owner of this property, that’s a kind of rent control for us.

Rachel: There’s still a need for practical services around here. You know, we don’t have Prown’s anymore, where you can go get a roll of paper towels and a teapot. But everybody needs a vacuum and to have it running. We get people from as far away as Lakewood, Marlboro, Holmdel all day long.

What’s the secret to remembering how to spell ‘vacuum?’
John: They spelled it wrong on my checks at the bank! They spelled it with two Cs. I had 450 checks all spelled wrong.

Which is more important, good food or comfortable shoes?
Rachel: Well, I wear horribly uncomfortable shoes all the time because they’re cute, so I’m the wrong person to ask.

John: I think good shoes to hunt down good food.

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