By Sue Stefko
This year marks the 50th anniversary in business of Uncle Lory’s Vac Shack.
Laurier (Lory) Lachapelle, the initial owner of the shop, began by selling Hoover vacuums door-to-door and working in vacuum repair. He decided to open his own shop in the Glebe Annex, first on Cambridge Street South and then moving to 686 Bronson Avenue in 1974.
The current owner, John Paravan, was first connected to the Vac Shack as a youth. He started mowing its small lawn when he was just 10 and got a part-time job in the shop itself at the age of 12. He has been there ever since, working with Lory for decades before buying the shop outright more than a decade ago.
Paravan grew up in the Glebe Annex. He has spent most of his life here, raising a family and advocating for the community. His advocacy has included calling for smarter development and more amenities such as grocery and pet food stores.
While at one point the Vac Shack had as many as seven employees, since the beginning of the pandemic, Paravan has run the business solo. He now does repairs and sales during business hours, working off-site to help people with their central vacuum systems after hours. His commitment to being there for his customers is remarkable – he can’t remember when he last took a vacation.
Although the Vac Shack is not Ottawa’s only vacuum repair and sales store, it is one of the best known, with clients across the city, the country and as far away as Colombia and Australia. People are drawn to the Vac Shack’s remarkable customer service, honesty, competence and fair pricing. On the store’s online reviews, a number of people note that they have been coming here since the 1970s, with nearly all extolling the store’s commitment to these attributes.
Paravan’s commitment to sustainability is also exceptional. Through his repair service, he has worked hard to keep materials out of the landfill. In fact, the Vac Shack was featured last spring in a Global TV national news story on the federal government’s intent to implement a “right to repair framework.” The framework refers to a broad spectrum of laws designed to make goods more durable and fixable.
However, not everyone wants to invest money in repairing their vacuum cleaners. When clients decide to opt instead for a new one, Paravan will keep the old vacuums and use all the spare parts possible to help keep other machines running. Sometimes he will just leave the machine outdoors – the store is frequented by people who are looking for vacuums that they can fix and sell themselves. For those machines that are beyond repair, there are also those who come to remove the copper and other valuable metals from the vacuums. He will also recycle some of the materials himself.
Unfortunately, however, Paravan is seeing more people opt for replacing other than repairing. Some of this is due to convenience and buying new. Sometimes it’s due to the manufacturers themselves. While many of the older brands, such as Electrolux, Filter Queen or Sebo, continue to make replacement parts decades after the models are released, as well as parts and attachments compatible with earlier models, this is often not the case for newer brands. Some newer popular brands change parts and sizes up to twice a year, with each model having its own distinct parts, making it nearly impossible to have the stock on hand to service the machines. These manufacturers often do not even sell replacement parts, expecting that the vacuums will be dumped when they malfunction instead of fixed, despite an often-hefty purchase price.
While the Vac Shack does sell new vacuums, the store stocks those that are built to last and that can be repaired. Paravan educates his customers on what to look for, so they select machines that they can use decades into the future instead of replacing or sending them to the landfill every few years.
Happily, the idea of keeping items out of landfills has started to become more popular. The Ottawa Tool Library has hosted Repair Cafés since 2017, and local Freecycle and Buy Nothing groups have also sprung up. At the Vac Shack, this is just the way that business has always been done. Having reached its 50-year milestone, the Vac Shack is still ahead of its time!
Sue Stefko is vice-president of the Glebe Annex Community Association.
Photo: John Paravan, owner of the Vac Shack, with one of his many vacuums, both new and used. This year Vac Shack is celebrating 50 years in business.
Photo: Gabrielle Dallaporta