Janie Bell, 79, operated Try Me dry-cleaners

November 21, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Janie Bell's dry-cleaning business in West Baltimore wasn't merely a place to get your shirts pressed or skirts hemmed.

The Try Me shop at Presbury and Smallwood streets, which Mrs. Bell operated from 1955 to 1980, also was the place where you caught up on neighborhood gossip as you drank coffee with friends.

Mrs. Bell, 79, who died Sundayof cancer at Mercy Medical Center, had a way with customers that kept them coming back over the years -- and not just to have their clothes cleaned.

"She was always so personable, always so happy and smiling," said Rog Fise, a friend and former customer. "I'd go in there just to talk to her . She made you feel right."

When Mrs. Bell opened the business in 1955, the store was somewhat of a family operation -- her husband and daughter worked there occasionally. But everyone knew Mrs. Bell was in charge.

"She was in charge there," said her daughter, Evelyn Moore of Baltimore. "She liked being in charge and having her own business. She liked meeting and being around people."

The Bell family lived in the community on Ashburton Street, less than a mile from the store, and being a part of the community helped attract and retain customers.

"I was always so happy to go there because I knew she was in the same situation as I was, and that was just trying to make ends meet," said Claudia Wrenbrook, who has lived in the community for nearly 40 years. "I considered her a friend more than anything else. She didn't care whether I brought clothes with me or not when I went there."

A friendship that Mrs. Bell had built helped to prevent a possible holdup at the business.

Ms. Moore recalled that a young man came into the store several years ago and announced a robbery. But Mrs. Bell knew him and his parents.

"She just kind of disarmed with her tongue," Ms. Moore said. "She asked him why he was doing such a thing and what was wrong with him. He just hung his head and walked out."

Born Janie Henson in Inman, S.C., she moved to Baltimore in 1944 and was a steel worker at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant for a year during World War II when many men were fighting overseas.

From 1945 until she opened her cleaning business, she was a presser for various Baltimore area dry-cleaners.

She married Roosevelt Bell in 1949.

Services will be held at 11: 30 a.m. tomorrow at Union Temple Baptist Church, 1100 W. North Ave.

In addition to her husband and daughter, survivors include two ++ brothers, Ralph Henson of Greer, S.C., and William Henson of Detroit; three sisters, Rosie Cohen of Asheville, N.C., and Tessie Henson and Agnes Fulmore, both of Baltimore; a granddaughter; and two great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 11/21/96

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