Britannia Cleaners is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year and co-owner Ed Strecker can’t believe so many years have passed.
“You never really give it any thought until you start to look at the numbers and say, ‘It’s the 80th year, holy smoke!’” he laughed. “We know it’s special and we know that very, very few businesses survive for that point with the same family running it. Really, we’ve been fortunate.”
Ed’s parents, Tony and Mary Strecker, opened a small dry-cleaning business in 1932 at 337 Britannia Ave. in Hamilton.
Two press machines were installed in a garage at the rear of the store.
Mary operated Britannia Cleaners during the day and was responsible for all minor repairs, while Tony got the clothes cleaned at Deluxe Cleaners, where he worked full time. He then would press and finish the clothing in the evenings in the garage.
“I don’t know how my dad and mom did it,” Ed said. “They started a business, had three kids and were dealing with the turmoil of holding a business together. It was just tons of work, but back then, there was no free hand, there was no unemployment insurance, there wasn’t any of that, so you had to make it, you had no choice.”
The mom-and-pop business eventually outgrew its surroundings.
Britannia Cleaners moved in 1946 to the former Billiard Hall – the site of Mountain Variety – in Stoney Creek.
When excavation work next door caused the roof of the rented building to collapse, another home was needed and the business moved into the former Basket Factory.
That building was then sold to make way for an apartment building – Cherrywood Apartments – so the Streckers decided to buy a place of their own.
They set up shop in 1962 at 17 King St. E, where the business remains today.
Britannia Cleaners continued to grow and with the addition of the Strecker boys – Ed and Henry – into the operation, there was a chance to expand.
The Streckers began a new division working with insurance and fire restoration companies to clean and restore fire and flood damaged items in 1975.
A Britannia Cleaners also opened in 1978 at 33 Elm St. in Grimsby. In addition, Ed and Henry founded Strecker Bros. Uniform Rental Services, which has been operating since 1983 at 540 Arvin Ave.
The brothers agreed one of the biggest changes they’ve seen in the business over the years is the evolution of fabrics.
“Years ago, all of the main fabric was wool, maybe rayon and cotton,” Henry said. “Now, we really rely on labeling because half the time, when you look at a piece of clothing, you can’t tell what is in there. Labeling is so important.”
Ed said technology also has evolved.
“From cleaning machines and pressing machines to the environmental aspect that goes with it, there’s new stuff every day and you really have to strive to keep up,” he said.
Britannia Cleaners has earned a number of awards in the industry and has even cleaned up at home, winning the Stoney Creek Chamber of Commerce’s Corporate Citizen of the Year Award in 1997 and Legacy Award in 2003.
Ed said the key to the business’ long-standing success begins with his parents’ dedication, hard work and expertise – all of which have left a lasting mark.
“We’ve also been extremely fortunate with the staffing that we’ve had all along,” he said, adding five of his staff members have put in more than 25 years in the plant. “Without good staff, I don’t care what business it is, you’re not going to survive.
“We’ve been incredibly fortunate because… the community have supported us just tremendously for all these years.”
Britannia Cleaners also supports the community in many ways, including sponsoring Stoney Creek Optimist Little League baseball, Stoney Creek soccer and organizing an annual golf tournament in support of the Stoney Creek Santa Claus Parade, to name a few.
Ed is also chair of Stoney Creek’s Business Improvement Area and was named Citizen of the Year in 2006.
“We’ve always believed that to get support of the community you also have to support the community,” he said. “It’s also something we enjoy doing. The spin back is that the general population, I think, says, ‘Those guys seem like pretty good guys, I think I’ll deal with them,’ and then when they deal with us, we want to make sure that we’re doing a super job.”
As for what he thinks is parents would think about today’s Britannia Cleaners,he said, “I think they would be proud.”
Ed said only time will tell what awaits the business, adding that the family has an understanding that it’s OK if the children are not interested in being in the business.
He added, for now, he has everything he could ever ask for.
“The business helped prepare my kids and Henry’s kids for life, as they all worked at some point in time in here. It also helped pay for an education for the kids and helped pay for a pretty decent family life,” he said. “What else could you want? Truly, we’ve been blessed.”
Britannia Cleaners is holding in-house draws in celebration of its 80th anniversary.
For more information on the business, discounts and articles in honour of the milestone, visit www.britanniacleaners.net.