Valdosta Daily Times

April 20, 2014

A Good, Clean Business

Duck Barnes Dry Cleaning celebrates 50 years

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Duck Barnes Laundry and Dry Cleaners will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary on April 27, and like a lot of things that have stood the test of time, it comes from simple, humble beginnings.

It all started with a walk.

Claude Nolan “Duck” Barnes walked from Morven to Valdosta in 1948 with $10 in his pocket, looking for work. He found a job with Star Laundry as an assistant to a route deliveryman and quickly earned his own route.

Working there, he met his future wife, Jeanie Barnes, who worked after school at Star Laundry.

“I used to see her walking from school while I was on my route and I used to give her a ride home or to work,” said Duck, in a past Valdosta Daily Times interview that hangs on the wall at Duck Barnes Dry Cleaning Service.

“We just got together and got married,” said Jeanie. “We bought a little two-bedroom frame house in 1954.”

The couple decided to open a dry-cleaning business, saving up $27,500 during the first 10 years of their marriage.

Once ready, they sold their house on Baytree Road and opened Duck Barnes Dry Cleaning Service in 1964.

At the time, Baytree was still a dirt road and their success was anything but guaranteed.

“It was rough,” said Jeanie. “We ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was a rough start, but we’ve been blessed. It took a few years. We just kept laboring at it and going at it and it picked up.”

When they opened, their son, Nolan, was 6 months old, their daughter, Anna, was 7. The two of them, along with their older brother, Steve, spent their childhoods at the dry cleaners.

“Anytime we had a day off school, we were here working,” said Anna. “There wasn’t sleeping late or anything like that. When we’d get spring break or something like that, we’d be up here sweeping floors or taking out trash.”

“Every summer we’d go back to school and they’d say, what all did you do?” said Nolan. “We’d say we just went to the laundromat.”

Still, it wasn’t all work. Nolan remembers sweeping after school before heading across the road to Bellflower Pharmacy for a vanilla milkshake.

It’s something Nolan and Anna have grown to embrace. Along with their mother and Anna’s husband, Scott, they are at Duck Barnes every day, after Duck and Steve both passed away in 2007.

Scott does the dry cleaning, Nolan handles the laundry and Anna and Jeanie handle the front.

Jeanie will celebrate her 81st birthday on April 27, the same day of Duck Barnes Dry Cleaning Service’s 50th anniversary. She still comes into work every day.

“My doctor told me to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Jeanie. “Said it seems to be agreeing with me. I’m here everyday, but I couldn’t do it without them.”

While she’s mentioned retirement in the past, she has no plans to leave the store.

“I can’t stay home all day. This gets in your blood and you get used to it. I enjoy meeting the customers and finding out about them.”

While technology has changed a lot of businesses, the dry cleaning business remains largely the same. The tagging system used to keep track of what item belongs to whom is the same one that Duck Barnes has used for 50 years.

All of the work is done on site: laundry, dry cleaning, minor alterations. Several families have been coming for three generations.

They’ve survived tough economic times and hard family times as well. They’ve come through it all, relying on each other.

“No pun intended, but it’s a good, clean business,” said Scott. “In a lot of jobs you’re doing one thing. Here, you never know what you’re walking into.”