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March 16, 1996

Photograph of the Northeast Corner of the Square

I noticed in Carolyn Chopp's "Mirrors of Yesterday" column the other day an item under the Forty Years Ago heading about plans to close the Kraemer's Store in Perry in 1956. Perhaps many of you are too young or too new here to remember that business, but let me assure, it was a great clothing emporium in its day:

For starters, it was founded on September 16, 1893, the day Perry was born when the Cherokee Strip land run took place. Mr. A. Kraemer, a journeyman shoemaker, came here at the opening and quickly established his business. People who made history in Perry wore Kraemer's shoes, and shoes from his store were still being worn by Perry citizens when the firm closed in 1956, although they bore names like Florsheim and Jarman. By then, Kraemer's had become a full line clothing store with wearing apparel for every member of the family, but even so most folks still thought of it as "Kraemer's Shoe Store."

Mr. Kraemer's original store was at the northwest corner of the square in a small frame building, where the Albright Title & Trust office is now located. The business later moved a half-block east, where Powers Abstract Co. is now located, in the old Exchange Bank building. Four years later Kraemer's relocated to a small frame building on the east side of the square in the space now occupied by Mel's Clothing. Mr. Kraemer liked that spot and decided to build a sturdy new two-story building there to replace the rickety frame store. That's where his business remained until the closing in 1956, and his building is still standing today.

By the time 1940 arrived, we had these businesses on the east side of the square, starting at the north end with Ralph Foster's Corner Drug Store; the Roxy Theatre operated by Pearl and Charlie Wolleson; the elegant Kraemer Store operated by Mr. Kraemer's descendants; Shaw's Beauty Shop operated by Bert and Ethel Shaw; H. L. Winger's Grocery; Henry Loeffelholz' Barber Shop; Billy and Lucille Reckert's Palace Cafe and Union Bus Depot; the Annex Theatre operated by Henry and Zoma Tate; the H. L. Johnson Grocery; Jack Smith's Variety Store; Louis Stanislav's Grocery; Wm. Stopp's East Side Boot & Shoe Repair Shop; Tom McLiman's Arcade Billiard Parlor; Guy Babcock's Cafe; and the First National Bank in the Foucart Building.

Some of the upstairs offices in those buildings were occupied by Jean and Kenneth Reed, attorneys; Carl Bittman and the Perry Business Men's Credit Exchange; offices for Joe McClellan and Merle Allen; Dr. A. M. Evans MD; G. A. Ley; Dr. O. W. Boyer and Dr. W. C. Marshall, dentists; John E Tate's photo studio; and Anna Doggett's Hotel Doggett and Anna Marsh's Marsh Hotel, across the hall from each other above Foster's and the Roxy. Carl McGill operated a taxi, stand from Foster's.

That's a pretty impressive lineup of businesses and professional services, and all of them were on the east side of the square. How many do you remember? The gap now existing on the east side is where everything between Kraemer's and Louis Stanislav's Grocery was located. The missing buildings were torn down years ago when an east side renovation was undertaken, only to be aborted.

Mr. Kraemer died in 1932, but his widow, Lillian, was still living here in 1940 at 801 Delaware street. She was a staunch supporter of the Church of Jesus Christ, Scientist, which was located on a corner lot diagonally across the street from her, on a site now occupied by the fire department. Marguerite Edson, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Kraemer, and her husband, E. O. (Ott) Edson, operated the Kraemer store after Mr. Kraemer died. Another daughter was Florence Crowder, wife of Dr. A. M. Crowder, dentist. The Kraemer sons included Dick, a tailor; Forrest and Harry. Only Dick followed his father into the business. Ott and Marguerite raised three nephews and a niece, but had no children of their own. Debbie Dotts Gilliam, Florence's granddaughter, is the only Kraemer family member now living here.

Ott Edson came to Perry in 1924, and he also was the offspring of Cherokee Strip pioneers, though not from the Perry area. He was a graduate of Oklahoma A.&M. College (now OSU) and once served as an instructor in the poultry department at Michigan State University and a poultry specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., before marrying Marguerite in 1919. He later was a poultry specialist at Texas A.&M. College before the couple returned here to live in 1924. Ott was an ardent baseball fan. He supported the semi-pro Perry Merchants during their heyday, and he and banker G. T. Webber frequently attended the Cowboys' home baseball games in Stillwater.

Marguerite had died by the time the store celebrated its 60th birthday on September 16, 1953. In addition to Ott, salespersons at the store then were Ethel Koch, Melba Martinez, Lavonne Seat and Margaret Norman. Partially because of the nephews he helped rear, Edson was active in the Boy Scout program and Kraemer's was an official Boy Scout store.

Display windows at the front of the store were among the most tastefully decorated in the business community. They were well lighted for the benefit of after-hours visitors who roamed the square admiring such things. Other special features at the store in 1940 were air-conditioned dressing rooms where customers could try on articles of clothing in comfort and privacy; free gift-wrapping service throughout the year; and of course many mainline name brands. Some of these were Koret of California, Junior Miss, Nancy Lee, Demitasse and Forever Young fashions, Carnival and Van Raalte undergarments for women, Arrow and Tru Val dress and sport shirts for men, Field & Stream outdoor clothing, Dobbs hats for men, Florsheim, Jarman, Red Wing and Justin shoes, and, of course, tailor-made apparel from a wide selection of swatch samples. Dick Kraemer measured me for a wool suit after I returned from Army duty in World War II, and it was great, the first I had owned that was not off the rack. Cost me about $35, I think.

All of that is from another age but it's interesting to look back at the way things were when Kraemer's Store was one of the kingpins of the Perry business community. Those days are gone forever, but in my mind's eye they are still very visible.