SINCE opening in 1928, Cooks Manchester and Lingerie has experienced numerous changes over the years.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is its highly regarded stature within the Horsham community as a destination for great customer service and a wide range of products.
For store owner John Latimer, the business has been his family’s legacy for 90 years.
“My maternal grandparents Walter and Ellen Cook moved here from Ballarat in 1928 because they couldn’t find any employment opportunities for their two sons and four daughters,” he said.
“With a bit of foresight, my grandfather had heard that this business was for sale in Horsham. They all moved up here in June 1928 and worked in the shop. In those days they employed about 18 people.
“They got through the Depression years by working hard and providing financial support. They ran accounts for framers in particular. So in some way, Cooks helped farmers get through their financial bad years.”
Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, half the shop was a grocery store.
“We employed a chap who would go out on his bike in the morning to visit all the houses and housewives would place their grocery orders with him,” he said.
“Then the next day the groceries would be delivered by horse and cart. It was quite a service.”
Mr Latimer’s uncle suffered a stroke in 1956, which meant his father George, his mother Grace and his three aunts started to run the business.
“My father was managing all the drapery side of things – men’s wear, women’s wear, dress fabrics, manchester and lingerie,” he said.
“They made the decision to sell out the groceries and redevelop the shop to just be a specialist drapery store.”
Having worked as an electrician for a number of years after high school, Mr Latimer decided to return to the shop to work in 1973.
“I had worked here during school holidays and had annoyed the staff after school, so I knew the place very well,” he said.
“In 1976, we could foresee the future of retailing, so mum, dad and myself bought the business from the remaining family members. We had a lot of departments back then, so we decided to deplete departments that were low-selling.
“For instance, we used to be huge in dress fabrics, but with ready-made clothes becoming so cheap, it slowed down those sales.”
Half the shop nowadays is manchester products – including linens, towels and homewears, and the other half is ladies’ sleepwear and lingerie.
“We retained the name of Cooks because my mum was a Miss Cook before she was Mrs Latimer,” he said.
“People knew the came Cooks for so long, so we never wanted to change it even when the Latimers took over the business.”
Mr Latimer said he was grateful for the Horsham community’s support over the years.
“Establishment is a big part of it because people would have been coming here since they were children,” he said.
“We are very conscious of what Wimmera people expect of us and what they look to us to provide. We do a lot of analysis of what people want and always listen to feedback, that’s really important to us.
“I really am extremely grateful to the Wimmera community for providing support to three generations of my family, we owe a lot to the community. We also owe a gratitude to the Wimmera Mail-Times for supporting us through advertising for decades.”
He said it would be a lovely prospect to get to 100 years.
“Recently I turned 70 and I’m still working full-time, so I just don’t know where we’ll go from here,” he said.
“I want to continue the business, there’s no doubt about that. I love coming here daily. Whether I can do another 10 years is another thing. My dad worked here until he was 78. This is a great achievement to get to 90 years though.”