Door clicks shut on 56 years of family ownership

It was 1946 and 35 year old Alan Victor Tribble was home from the war, having served in the army and returned to Barrie, to his wife and young son John. He quickly set about the activity of finding a way to provide for his family.

Thus began Cotty’s Cleaners. Why Cotty’s? Well, nobody, except maybe the Army records, ever called Alan Victor Tribble anything but Cotty. And nobody now living, including his wife Billie, knows the origin of the nickname.

But, in 1946, at 127 Dunlop St W, Cotty started his business, right across from the Queen’s Hotel and the much larger Wrights Cleaners.

Cotty ran his cleaning operation all by himself in 1946, taking in clothes at the front of the shop, carrying them to the cellar where he did the cleaning and all the pressing. He used varsol in those days and it was cold. His wife worked in the office, and since the young company didn’t own an adding machine, both husband and wife did all the ‘toting up’ in their heads.

Some days business was good., And some days Cotty would stand at the window and watch people going in and out of George Wright’s operation. For every 10 customers that went into the shop on the sunny side of the street, one came into Cotty’s.

Like the entrepreneur he was, Cotty worked at this for a few years, watching the competition, and figuring out what he could offer that would be different than his competition. It was 1950 when he took over his parents’ house at #7 Florence St and built a modern plant at the rear of the property. The young family, now boasting 12 year old John, daughter Joan and toddler Bill, lived in the house on the property while Cotty’s Cleaners took a business turn in the back.

With a modern cleaning room, a pressing area, new boiler room and trucks on the road, Cotty’s was about to burst into Barrie’s economy. Employees were hired, the first a silk finisher. And then Stan Jones, Myrtle and Betty Hiltz, Clara Beaudin, Faye Towns, John Fish, Bill Long… the list of Cotty’s first cleaners, pressers and drivers is like a list of old friends to the company that is now history. Del Cloughley was a cleaner and then Ed Marion joined the team.

Cotty’s put trucks on the road and wooed CFB Borden for all their uniformwork. Bingo! Busy, busy, busy. By then, son John was easing into after school work behind the house, and remembers well the main business was pick-up and delivery, back in the days when people were at home to receive their dry cleaning, crinkly paper bags covering coats and suits.

Camp Borden was a big deal, in John’s memory. It took two of Cotty’s trucks to service Borden with a third doing Barrie. Still much of the business was Cash & Carry, people driving up to Florence St to pick up their laundry.

Within a decade Cotty Tribble was driving around town looking for a new location, something that would accommodate drive-in traffic and a new, modern plant. John was well into high school and his dad queried him about his work intentions. Cotty very nearly built on Bradford St., beside the old French Motors car dealership, but at the 11th hour a For Sale sign went up on an old service station, long abandoned, at 217 Dunlop St E. A square cement pad out front, and a closed mechanic’s bay. And Cotty’s friend Don Emery sold him the land that became his third plant, the drive-in location that John Tribble walked out of for the last time three weeks ago.

It was a great location, the property alone cost $25,000 and Cotty Tribble visited a new state-of-the-art plant called Jack Cook Cleaners on Yonge St in Toronto. He also asked John if he was prepared to stay in the business. With John’s affirmative answer, the decision to build a new plant moved forward.

John laughs as he remembers the flashy, new equipment being installed at this new Cotty’s. In 1960, the equipment was expensive and colourful and the equipment installers insisted in putting it all in the front window, so people could see how incredible the pressing machines were.

Three years after the new plant went into operation, Cotty Tribble died very suddenly, at age 53. And with his death a history of a tremendous athletic ability ended. Cotty loved the Barrie Flyers, excelled at baseball, hardball, boxing, lacrosse, badminton, hockey. As Cotty was buried, his friends Roy Christie, Ted Twiss and Bill Malcolmson mourned their loss.

Competition being what it was, Wrights started a new cash & carry operation down the street. And so John decided to expand into Fleetham’s empty Red & White Grocery Store at 50 Essa Rd. He and his young family moved into the apartment over the store (The Tiltin’ Hiltin, they called it) and Cotty’s first depot was born.

Then another depot on Bayfield St. Another on Cundles. Another on Bell Farm. Another on Fairview Rd. And then Wellington St where Bruce Brock operated the coin laundry and asked John to take over the dry cleaning part of the operation. His dad gone, John turned to Bruce for advice and mentorship and it proved a sturdy friendship that turned into coffee every morning before work started. Today John maintains an office at the Wellington Plaza location.

As John looks at Cotty’s 56 year history, he sees the fabulous 80’s when business almost ran itself, and then years before and since when taking a paycheque was not possible. The ups and down, the risks of where to develop and when.

And a few months ago when John was approached by three long-time Barrie businessmen, he looked at his own retirement, talked with son Chris who’s really interested in the construction field, and put Cotty’s into phase three of its long life.

Brian Tattersall, Peter Moore and Craig Wallwin have bought Cotty’s. They’re operating the dry cleaning part of the business for now and John is keeping the coin laundry and repair businesses at Wellington Plaza.

John’s philosophical as he looks at the waterview location so sought after by his Dad half a century ago. “It’s a beautiful location. It should be developed.”

Probably the same words his dad said 50 years ago when he eyed a closed service station and held stars in his eyes for an ultra-modern dry cleaning plant.

Thanks, John. Thanks, Cotty.