If there were a competition for the kindest couple in Bellevue, Bill and Sandi Cleaver would take it in a walk every year.
That’s what makes saying goodbye so difficult.
After 53 years at Bellevue Vacuum, Bill has said it’s time to close shop. This Friday, Feb. 17, the vacuum retail and repair store will close for good, bringing to an end one of Bellevue’s oldest businesses.
“Thank God for so many wonderful customers over the years,” he said. “But I’m outta here.”
Bellevue Vacuum opened on Main Street in 1951 and was purchased a short few months later by Dick Gough (whom Bill still refers to as “the boss”). Bill came on board in 1964 and bought it outright from Gough shortly after.
Bill, 73, and Sandi, 66, said the market has changed. The store is seeing less and less business. Coupled with Bill having a stroke last year, the business just doesn’t fit the times anymore.
“The old stuff used to be worth maintaining and repairing,” Sandi said. “Now it’s plastic stuff you just throw away to buy a new one. And subcontractors come to Bellevue for just a few years and don’t buy things that will last a long time.”
Sandi laments the cheap and disposable products on the market, both for the loss of business and the high environmental cost of new plastic vacuums.
But the Cleavers realize that the times change.
“It isn’t Old Town Bellevue anymore,” Bill said.
“I used to be able to say hello to everybody walking down the street and that doesn’t happen anymore. Well, I still do it, but people tend to look away,” Sandi said. “Main Street is so busy with cars, people are actually staying away from the area, and we are a word-of-mouth business.”
Even so, generations of customers and friends are wishing the Cleavers goodbye and good luck in their retirements. One brought in a guest book, allowing customers to sign and recall good memories with the longstanding business.
After the last day, the family will be enjoying a well-deserved vacation before clearing up the seven decades of parts and tools for the building’s new occupant.
“After coming back, we’ll have three days to sort out 50 years of accumulation,” Sandi said.
Maison de France will be moving into the Forum (10129 Main Street) after Bellevue Vacuum vacates the premises. the vacuum store moved there from across the street in 1978. The Cleavers continue to live upstairs.
“It’s a pretty nice commute,” Sandi said. “Three flights of stairs is pretty nice.”
Before moving into the Forum (into a customer’s apartment after she passed away) Bill lived on a boat in Seattle. The two hour commute wasn’t ideal.
But the Cleavers understand that as Bellevue grows and rents rise, the type of customers who might patronize their business move farther and farther away.
Where can customers go now to get the same services? Bill is directing people to City Vacuum in Shoreline.
Shoreline is also where one of Bill’s daughters lives (the other lives in Edmonds and both are from Bill’s first marriage), so they might just follow their customers up there.
“We’re looking forward to road trips,” Sandi said. “San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, Wyoming, we’ve got a full agenda.”
Between road trips, the Cleavers hope Bellevue residents don’t make themselves scarce.
“Thank you for being good customers and friends,” Sandi said. “We’ll miss you and we’ll see you around Bellevue.”