When James Brown was in his teens, he wasn’t obsessed with girls, guitars, ghouls or any other interest common among teenage males. Yet his chosen hobby—collecting vacuum cleaners—frustrated his mother just the same, prompting her to cry “No more!” whenever he brought home the latest dirt-busting object of his affection. “I used to buy them and sneak them into the house anyway,” he says, noting that he began collecting at age 8, and had acquired 50 different models by the time he was a teenager.
Today, the thirty-something Brown is proud owner/operator of Mr. Vacuum Cleaner, a combination museum and sales & repair shop in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire (England), best-known as the birthplace of 20th-century author D.H. Lawrence. The former caretaker says his museum was inspired by failure—that is, Britain’s failure to formally acknowledge the importance of vacuum cleaners and their role in promoting domestic hygiene. That’s why Mr. Vacuum Cleaner showcases the bulk of Brown’s 120-piece collection, which includes a diverse array of Electroluxes, Hoovers, Singers and Dysons, among others.
According to Brown, he has spent between £30,000 and £50,000 on the collection, his most expensive vacuum an old Kirby that set him back £2,000. Kirby, incidentally, is his favorite brand, describing it as the “Rolls-Royce of vacuum cleaners.” He has even made a pilgrimage to the company’s factory in Cleveland, Ohio, recalling that he was “so excited he could barely speak.” Yet he doesn’t sell Kirbys in his shop, and the vintage ones in his collection are stored off-site, a concession to space limitations and his determination that they are too valuable to display.
To be sure, Brown has a lot invested in Mr. Vacuum Cleaner, and the still-single sole proprietor is clearly willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that the business succeeds. (He works six days a week, takes no vacation time, and lives with his parents to save money.) Needless to say, though, his love of vacuuming and cleaning in general figures to be attractive to potential mates. He sheepishly admits that he does most of the cleaning in the Brown household, though he hastens to add that his brother is responsible for washing the dishes.
Fittingly, Brown has rolled out the proverbial red carpet for visitors to Mr. Vacuum Cleaner, offering free admission to the museum in the hope that curiosity seekers will become customers. If nothing else, his shop probably has the cleanest carpets in England.