January 25th, 2010
How a local retailer has managed to keep market share and maintain their way of doing business for the past 62 years
by Diane Hartford
Some people like fancy houses, or fast cars, and some people collect rare art. But Blair Smith had a thing for quality vacuums. When Smith was first introduced to Filter Queen vacuums he was amazed and became a natural sales person. He enthusiastically promoted the machine to his friends and acquaintances until they all wanted Filter Queens of their own. According to his daughter Barbara Green, this was the beginning of Smith Crown Vacuums 62 years ago.
Barbara's family has owned and operated Smith-Crown Vacuum since 1947. Blair and his wife Maureen opened up shop in Sugar House down the street from a Hoover store. When Hoover decided to shut its doors, the Greens bought out their stock and began offering additional brands of vacuums and added a vacuum repair shop, in order to keep their customers' vacuums running smoothly.
Although Blair passed away thirty-seven years ago following a valiant battle against cancer, Maureen and the family have kept the business running. In fact, at ninety years old, Maureen still comes to the office every day. Barbara describes Maureen as 'the heart and soul' of the company.
Barbara Green(top left) her mother Maureen, daughter Alisyn
and grandson Andrew
Since 1947, Smith-Crown has occupied office space no further than two doors away either direction from where the store is now located at 2005 South and 1100 East. The large centralized counter at the front of the store is home base for the employees who greet customers warmly (and often by name) as they enter the store. It doesn't take an observer much time to see that customer service is highly valued by Smith-Crown employees.
Barbara believes that customers return to the store because knowledgeable employees can customize offerings based on their needs, and products can be demonstrated for them. The store offers warranty and repair work; services big box stores don't offer.
One unexpected yet thoroughly charming thing about Barbara and the Smith-Crown shop are the pairs of doves that live in cages at the store. The birds' soft cooing and gentle nuzzling enchant children and adults alike. Barbara has kept doves for years and speaks fondly of the affectionate pairs that mate for life and periodically produce replicas of themselves.
Barbara is also an active member of the Sugar House Merchants Association, in which local businesses, city, police, and community council representatives meet monthly to share relevant information about issues facing the neighborhood. The group is involved in supporting some of the historical Sugar House events such as Sugar Days, Turkey Days, and Santa's annual visit.
The Sugar House Merchants Association has cultivated a good working relationship with the city. When city officials decided to install new street lights around Sugar House, Barbara had the opportunity to take a tour around town to see some of the street light options that are utilized in other Salt Lake neighborhoods.
As a native, Barbara believes it's a terrific place to live, and has seen many changes over the years. Gone is the department store on the corner and the movie theater down the street, but she appreciates improvements, like the brand new Urbana on Eleventh condos under construction directly across the street from her store. She welcomes the additional living spaces and says, "The new residents will enjoy the mix of retail shops, restaurants, and the library which are all within walking distance of the condos."
Much media attention has been paid to the ongoing saga of the Granite Block Project over the last few years. A half-block further south from Smith-Crown looms the large corner lot which remains vacant. Long standing businesses were displaced and the buildings razed so that a new mixed-use development could be built in their stead, but the downturn in the economy has the project stalled.
Despite the delay, Barbara thinks that the Granite Block Project is an exciting endeavor. She recognizes that change is a difficult albeit necessary part of Sugar House's story and feels that in the long run the infusion of people to the neighborhood will add to the vitality of the area. She says that Granite Block Project developer Craig Mecham is a Sugar House native and has been very open and accessible with local business owners, noting that most of the businesses that were displaced have relocated nearby. Barbara says that once the project regains momentum, Mecham is committed to attracting local businesses to the development.
Overall, Barbara looks forward to the changes coming to Sugar House. In addition the changes mentioned above, eventually a TRAX line will bring shoppers to the area and there is talk of further city improvements in the future. But, in the meantime, her warm smile accompanies kind words while she greets her loyal customers as they come in and out of the shop.