June 13, 1997
A new life lies ahead for one of Perry's landmarks on the south side of the square. Leroy Rolling has completed the purchase of the 25-foot front building at 608 Cedar street which was last occupied by a used clothing store operated by the late Beatrice Marchbanks. But for years before Bea Marchbanks opened that shop, the building was the home of the fabled Gem Cafe, operated by Wesley O. Marcy with Homer Thompson as his nonpareil chef. It was one of Perry's choice eating places in the 1930s, 1940s and on into the early 1950s.
In the near future, the building is expected to become the new home of the Perry High School Alumni Association, which has been more or less located in a corner of the Foucart building but with no room to display its growing collection of historic memorabilia relating to Perry public schools through the years. Kathy Lewis is the current president of the association. Plans for converting the building to meet the association's needs are still being worked on.
But in the meantime, all this has taken me back in time to those decades when Wes Marcy was one of Perry's kings of the culinary arts at the Gem Cafe. Along with Eddie Parker's northside Kumback Cafe, Billy and Lucile Reckert's eastside Palace Cafe, Walt Kehres' Elite Restaurant, also on the north side, Speck and Stella Roads' Auto-Eat Cafe just off the northeast corner, and assorted other diners which came and went around the square during that period, the Gem Cafe was a wonderful place for eating out. Each was a veritable oasis of dining pleasure during the era of the Great Depression, and each had its own personality, largely a reflection of the owners themselves.
Wes Marcy was a dandy little entrepreneur, standing perhaps 5' 4", cheerfully chubby and invariably nattily dressed with a white shirt, necktie, and sharply creased slacks. On rare occasions, a jacket completed the ensemble, but that was usually only during cold weather when north winds chilled the entryway each time the front door swung open. Wes greeted customers with a smile, a handshake and individualized salutations as they arrived at the front door. His customary station was behind the cash register which stood on a glass display counter housing the cache of toothpicks, chewing gum, candy bars, cigars and cigarets intended to tempt departing customers as they paid their bills.
Wes rarely waited on tables, leaving that chore to his well trained and neatly dressed cadre of waitresses, but during peak business periods he mingled among the tables and booths to make certain each guest was pleased with his or her order. At the front of the cafe, a long dining counter with vinyl-topped flat stools was usually chosen by customers dining alone, or those who were just enjoying a cup of Gem Cafe coffee, perhaps with a slice of pie. The counter is now in the possession of Jim and Sondra Garvey, who operate their Wood 'n Stuff store just a few doors west of the old Gem Cafe location. Jim is looking for a photo of the Gem Cafe's exterior as it appeared in the 1930s or 1940s. Leroy Rolling also would like a photo of the cafe from that period. Perhaps a reader can help them with this.
More about the Gem Cafe, Wes Marcy and Homer Thompson when the Northwest Corner next appears.