After decades of taking Winnipeggers to the cleaners, Stewart Leibl has sold his family business. Perth's, a city institution, is now owned by Tower Cleaners of Calgary.
"I'm moving on to the next chapter in my life," Leibl said Wednesday. "It's time."
Leibl is 59, and although he's not ready to fully retire, he's done with the day-to-day worries of running a business. He's worked for Perth's for 35 years, starting as the manager of the uniform-rental business and moving on up the ladder.
He became a part-owner shortly after he joined the company in 1977. He became president in 1992 and bought the company outright a few years after that.
Perth's is one of the iconic places of my childhood. I grew up in West Kildonan, so my mom took my dad's dress shirts to the Main Street store, just across from the Green Briar Inn. It's the building that once looked like it was designed for the Jetsons. The building and its ripple-effect facade is still there but several other businesses share the space with the dry cleaner.
Back then, getting clothes dry-cleaned was a luxury. When my dad's shirts began to be laundered by Perth's and not by my mother (this was the '60s and feminism hadn't come to my house) it was a subtle signal his career was going well.
I still feel mixed guilt and pleasure when I take clothes in, partly because of the expense and partly because I have a husband willing to slave over a hot iron. That makes one of us.
Perth's was founded in 1914 by a Russian immigrant named Nathan Portnoy. His son took over the business in 1953. Thirty-five years later, Perth's was sold to an executive group that included Leibl.
The company grew, buying Quinton's Dry Cleaners in 2001. There are 20 Perth's stores in Winnipeg and a 35,000-square-foot plant. The company has 130 employees. Leibl says they'll all keep their jobs.
New owner Terrell Stephen plans to keep the Perth's name. Leibl won't reveal the financial terms of their agreement.
Those signature Perth's Scottie dogs have nothing to do with a Russian immigrant named Portnoy. The company's website says people used to dye their clothes when they were badly stained. Dyeing companies offered their services by mail order.
"Pollards of Perth, Scotland, was a successful dyeing company that dealt widely in Canada," the website says. "Because of the large number of persons of Scottish origin living in Manitoba, Pollards became particularly successful in this province. Nathan Portnoy borrowed the name of Pollards' hometown."
Post-Perth's, Leibl says he's going to do some consulting, helping other companies with mergers and acquisitions. Mostly, he wants to spend more time improving his golf game and generally taking better care of himself. "I think I'll spend a bit more time taking it easy," he says.
Leibl and his wife Ellen, the parents of two children in their 20s, own a home in Phoenix. Spending the winters there unbothered by work concerns will be a big part of his semi-retirement.
"Quite simply, I wanted to retire when I was healthy. You buy businesses, you grow businesses. I've sold parts of the business over the years."
While it's sad to leave a family-owned business, Leibl laughs he's not putting his children out of work. He was the only Leibl on Perth's payroll. "Sure, it was a family business but I was the family."
In addition to enjoying warm winters and spending time on the golf course, Leibl plans to do more charity work.
He says we're not losing a Winnipeg landmark, we're gaining another citizen. New owner Terrell Stephen has moved to Winnipeg.
"I was ready for the change," says Leibl. "I can go back and visit. It's not like they're going to bar the doors when they see me coming."