It took just one email for generations of customers and decades of appreciation to come pouring in at Sneed’s Vacuum & Sewing Center.
“I sent the email out at 11:30 [a.m.] that we were closing down and, just an hour later, the store is full,” said Regina Sneed, who owns the store with her husband, Buddy. “You work in a small business and you feel like you’re taken for granted sometimes. But people were coming in the store crying, saying that we were like family. I guess we were more important than we realized.”
Sneed’s will be gone in four to six weeks after 60 years of business in the Charleston area, but it will not be forgotten if the past week of reactions is any indication.
The Sneeds said they found a buyer for the property, at 2614 7th Ave., a few weeks ago. Although they remain tight-lipped about the buyer and what the property’s future is, they are adamant that the offer was a sign to close the business and retire.
“Someone made us an offer out of the blue, we talked with them and [Buddy and I] decided it was a good time to retire,” Regina said. “We wanted to make it to 60 years, and we did.”
The store has begun its liquidation sales and, despite decades of supplies, parts and machines to sort through, it is being cleaned out quickly by longtime customers. By Tuesday, all of the sewing machines had been sold except for one, and the Sneeds expect other items to continue dwindling in number because of the storewide 30-percent-off sale.
Store sales have never been a major concern for Sneed’s through the years because of its established customer base and unique services. There aren’t many businesses that repair vacuum cleaners, and Buddy has been an expert in that niche market since the 1950s.
“When I was 12, my father started working for the Hoover company,” he said. “They needed someone to do repairs, and I learned how to do that.”
Two years later, the Sneed family opened its first iteration of the business, on Lee Street. The business moved a couple of times, to accommodate a growing inventory, until settling in at 7th Avenue in 1984. By that time, Buddy had purchased the business from his father and married Regina, who added another layer to the business with sewing supplies and services.
Besides Buddy’s vacuum repair skills, many customers have kept coming back for the sewing classes held at the store. Sneed’s offers more than 300 sewing classes per year, ranging from lectures for beginners to demos for advanced participants.
“The sewing classes we’ve had — you can’t do that online,” Regina said. “The [current participants] are trying to find a new place to do that, and they can’t find it.”
And longtime customers have not been hesitant to voice their concerns about the classes ending. They are among many things only Sneed’s has been able to provide.
“I came back here when I got back into sewing,” said Laura Donat, of Ripley and a Sneed’s customer since 2012. “I’m going to miss it. It just draws in so many people from all over.”
But the Sneeds said being able to close on their own terms — without pressure from a new competitor or any looming debt that needs to be paid — is the right way to do it.
“They’re asking, ‘Who is going to teach us classes?’ or ‘Where are we going to get our parts?’ ” Regina said. “Right now, we’re not sure what’s going to happen with that. I guess the service we offered here was kind of priceless.”
Reach Max Garland at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.