Cooley’s clothing store closes after 88 years in Red Bank | Chattanooga Times Free Press (2024)

After providing prom dresses, tuxedos and wedding attire to thousands of Chattanooga-area residents for decades, Cooley's Fine Clothing has shut its doors and is liquidating its merchandise and store fixtures over the next two weekends.

Founded by Milton and Nelle Cooley in 1936 as a retailer of handmade bedspreads, Cooley's evolved into what became one of the oldest family-owned clothing stores in Tennessee. But Janet Reeve, one of the third-generation owners of the store at 2224 Dayton Blvd., said the time has come for a new use for their 8,600-square-foot building in Red Bank and the clothing business is closing down.

(READ MORE: Red Bank not raising property tax rate)

"We're the third generation to operate Cooley's, but there is no fourth generation coming along (to take over the store)," Reeve said in an interview this week with her fellow owners of the business. "We have some other plans for the building and as soon as the retirement sale is completed this weekend and next, we hope to do some renovation over the next year and open the building, hopefully, for someone else to use."

Reeve and the other owners said the business has gradually closed down its operations in recent months and will conduct its final sale of all goods during the liquidation sales this week and next.

Estate Sales by Tim and Kellie will sell off the merchandise and store fixtures during two consecutive weekend retirement sales from 10 a.m .to 4 p.m. on June 6-8 and again from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 13-15.

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Cooley’s clothing store closes after 88 years


Cooley's has been a Red Bank institution, begun 19 years before the city of Red Bank was even incorporated in 1955.

The business was started during the Great Depression when Milton Cooley lost his job in St. Elmo, forcing him and his wife, Nelle, to tell their daughter, Sara Nell Cooley, they might not be able to pay for her to continue to take music lessons at the Cadek Conservatory of Music. Seeing how upset that made her child, Nelle Cooley vowed to raise the money for her daughter's musical training by going into business selling bedspreads.

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The business debuted as Cooley's Bedspread and Cloth Shop 88 years ago in a rented 15-foot-by-40-foot building next to where the landlord stored cattle feed in the White Oak neighborhood of what developed into Red Bank. Nelle Cooley relied upon her brother, who was a pioneer in the tufted bedspread industry emerging in Dalton, to initially supply the bedspreads, promising to repay him once she sold his bedspreads from her new storefront.

Located along what was then a popular north-south Highway 27 route in Red Bank, Cooley's hung the bedspreads on clotheslines along the highway, attracting buyers traveling with the colorful bed sheets and cloths.


The bedspread business prospered and grew, but by the 1950s, Milton and Nelle Cooley's children pivoted the business into fine clothing, selling both formal and casual clothes for men, women, and for while, even to children. The company began renting tuxedos and other formal wear in the 1980s.

The product may have shifted, but the family ownership and management and the personalized sales approach remained the same, according to the company owners.

The business is now owned by four members of the third generation of the Cooley family, including Jimmy Cooley and Janet Reeve, who have remained active in the business finding the right suits and dresses for customers through the years. Two other family owners, Chrissi Cooley Vieth and Jane Hosemann, pursued other careers but they all would work at peak periods at the family business.

"We all kind of grew up in this store and had so much fun here," Chrissi Vieth recalled. "Saturdays, holidays and summer we would be here."

Sara Nell Cooley Reeve, the daughter of the company founders, continued to work at the business until her death at age 91 in 2013, according to her grandchildren. "Momma Nell," as she was affectionately known, provided the business focus to complement the generosity of her brother.

Milt and James Cooley built customer relationships through decades of work at Cooley's Fine Clothing and often shared the fruits of the business with others in the community, giving away clothes and food for those in need and often calling their business "a ministry."

"The way I always looked at it is that Momma Nell made the money, and Daddy gave the money away," quipped Jimmy Cooley.

1971 FIRE

The business survived nearly a century through changing retail shopping patterns from shopping malls to discount outlets to online retailing. The business even survived a fire in 1971 that destroyed the store and most of its contents just 10 days before Christmas.

James Cooley was interviewed on the radio the next morning after the fire by Luther Masingill, who asked what it was like to lose everything. He replied that "we still have everything" with his family and Christian faith. The Cooleys later received a letter from one listener who said that testimony was so moving that she reconsidered her suicidal plans at the time upon hearing that radio interview.

The store was rebuilt on the same location in six months and has remained there ever since.

"There's no fourth generation to carry the business on, but we'll always cherish the relationships we had and enjoyed because of this store," Jane Hosemann said.

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340.

Cooley’s clothing store closes after 88 years in Red Bank | Chattanooga Times Free Press (2024)
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