The big news is that an upscale restaurant will soon open in downtown Ukiah, or else the big news is that Danny’s Vacuum Repair Shop is getting evicted in order to make space for an upscale restaurant to open in downtown Ukiah.
Danny’s is a small landmark there on North State Street, a modest anchor and a shop well known by locals. If you’ve never had a vacuum cleaner repaired by Danny Murphy you probably don’t own a vacuum cleaner.
He’s been in the same place 39 years but in fewer than 60 days he won’t. That’s how much time Danny’s been given to find somewhere else to fix things for people, and the clock is ticking. The calendar pages are dwindling.
Some shop owners might find such business dealings a shade callous, but as most of us know, Danny is a cheerful, affable fellow. Still, he doesn’t like the idea of ceding the honor of second place in longevity and tenure among downtown businesses, behind only the Mac Nab boys a few blocks south. (The Mac Nabs opened their first Ukiah store a few decades prior to the Gold Rush.)
Many years ago, when Danny began prowling around looking for a suitable site for his store he took the spot previously rented by the Cheesecake Lady (anyone remember Robin Collier?) who moved to the old school board offices at North School & Henry streets, renaming her business the Cheesecake Mama.
And when Danny moved in his next door neighbors were Venturi & Eckman, interior designers specializing in paints and linoleum. It became the North State Cafe, and next will be an upscale downtown restaurant.
Danny and his wife (and shop partner) Cindy have seen a few things from their front row perch east of the Palace Hotel in those years. It’s a long time, and he’s a bit older than he was when he first opened the shop. So what’s a guy getting evicted supposed to do?
He has options. He could take it as a Sign From Above that his days are over as Ukiah’s only vacuum repairman and that it’s time to call it quits. That option creates more problems.
“Oh, I’ve thought about retiring but there’s so many people who depend on me,” he said. “The maids, the janitors, UVAH, the county office staff all need things fixed. What are they supposed to do, go to Santa Rosa?”
A second choice is to move, which presents other problems, as if he needs a few more. There are five or six storefronts scattered around the downtown area that he thinks might be suitable for a new location. Danny has his eye on an empty office a hundred feet north, in part because it would make moving easier, but the landlord has been slow responding to inquiries. And then there’s the Moving part.
Moving. Sigh. Portions of the store look like your neighbor’s garage, the garage where there’s no longer room for the family car, nor the lawn mower.
The very notion of scooping up decades’ worth of vacuum cleaner parts, everything from switches and brackets to handles and those long rollers with tiny little brushes on them is just one big major league headache.
Gaze around. Here lies a cemetery of obscure, uncountable pieces of busted vacuum cleaners: obsolete canisters, some spare parts here, some broken components there, a hose, a cord, some clamps, a burnt motor and maybe Jimmy Hoffa’s body under a box of old Electrolux parts.
All destined for the new shop, and all to be transported within the ticking clock of those 60 days. But move he will. Danny’s good at what he does, he enjoys what he’s doing and Ukiah would be worse off without him.
“I’ve never laid in bed a single day in my life wishing I didn’t have to go to work,” he said. “I guess that means I never had to work a day in my life.”
His work-free life stretches back a long way. We’ve only heard about the most recent 39 years but that’s not when it started. Growing up in Great Falls, Montana, Danny and his sisters walked after school to dad’s repair shop. “It’s where we were unofficially ‘babysat’ when we were kids,” he says. Then came a divorce and dad left town.
That was the bad news, but the good news was it helped launch young Danny Murphy into what would become a lifelong career. “It meant that I had my first shop when I was in high school,” he said. He was 15 years old.
You can add it all up. Danny has been in the carpet cleaning game so long he remembers brands like Filter Queen, Eureka, GE, Compact and Rainbow. He had high praise for the Rainbow system, which incorporated filtered water into the cleaning process, with excellent results.
Also a topnotch brand was (is) Kirby, which he said “absolutely dominated everyone all through the 1970s.” Many older models were sold door-to-door by traveling salesmen, a marketing strategy no longer in much use.
He’s seen ‘em all and repaired most of ‘em. He’s asked to take a guess at how many vacuum cleaners he’s repaired from those teenage years until today. He’s mildly startled at the question and stumped at the solution.
“Oh gee. I mean . . . Well, some days I’ll fix 10 or so, maybe. Other days more, maybe less. Five days a week. Oh boy,” and he gets a faraway look in his eye.
And just think: Of all those millions of vacuum cleaners Danny Murphy has fixed over the years, at least one of them was yours.