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June 24, 1997

Those recent columns about Wes Marcy, Homer Thompson and the old Gem Cafe have stimulated even more recollections concerning the east end of the south side of the square as it looked in the 1930s and 1940s. The Gem Cafe occupied the east half of a 25-foot front building at 608 Cedar street. The west half for many years was the home of the White House Barber Shop, operated by the late Charlie Longacre. Eventually the cafe took over the entire building.

Perry had several barber shops around the square in those days. Each side had at least one, and some of them also had a beauty salon where ladies endured hours of sitting under ominous-looking machines to receive a permanent wave. For a time the White House Barber Shop shared its half of the Gem Cafe building with a beauty parlor operated by a lady named Mikie Johnson.

Charlie Longacre was a tall, slender and friendly man. For years he served as secretary of the Noble county election board, and I will guarantee that no county in the state of Oklahoma had a more efficient, better organized election board and precinct officials than ours. On any election night, and for weeks ahead of time, he was there to oversee operations in the board's courthouse office, and he was never too busy to politely and fully answer any question. He did this without having to pick up a reference book. He had a thorough knowledge of the law governing elections and he invariably interpreted it correctly. Reporters from the local press who were stationed at the office on election night appreciated his courtesy and understanding very much. But the election board was just a kind of avocation for Longacre. He also was an ace barber.

The White House Barber Shop had three chairs, sometimes four, and they were usually occupied by customers. In addition to Mr. Longacre, who had the shop's second chair, Frank Taylor was the first chair barber and Ira Stanly had the third chair. Other barbers worked in the shop from time to time, but those three must have had the longest tenures. An enterprising young man named Bill Irvin also operated a shoe shine stand in the shop. He left Perry as a youth but returned years later for Mr. Longacre's funeral.

Remnants of the barber shop are still visible in the building, but most traces have been gone for quite some time. Dixie Nicewander was Mr. Longacre's niece, and she also helped Ermine Marchbanks when a used clothing store occupied the entire Gem Cafe and White House Barber Shop building. She tells me that a metal grate was located in the floor at the front entrance to the barber shop, and the grate is still there. The doorway was recessed slightly. A solid wall with a single door separated the rear of the barber shop from Mikie Johnson's beauty shop, and beyond it was a long, narrow corridor for access to the back door.

After the barber shop, other tenants occupied the west half of the building. During the 1950s, Virginia Hamann had her car tag agency in that location for about five years before moving to the east side of the square. Down on the east end of the south side was the Corner Fruit Market operated in the late 1930s and on into the 1940s by Leo and Hortense Johnson. It started as a flimsy-looking 25-foot front store with an open area at the sidewalk where fruit and produce were displayed in favorable weather. Later, the Johnsons built the structure you see there today. It was a modern new bus station along with a lunch stand that featured an S-shaped serving counter. The juke box was loaded with popular tunes of the day and the place was a favorite hangout for teenagers. The Old South Doughnut Shop now occupies the building.

Next to the Johnson' fruit stand was the Noble County Abstract Co. operated by the Dolezals -- J. E., Joe Jr. and George Dolezal Sr., then came Pearl Schiewe's Chic Shoppe, then Bill Ringler had Ringler's Leather Goods Store on the east side of the Gem Cafe. Mr. Ringler handcrafted all types of leather goods, from belts to saddles and everything in between.

One other tidbit before closing. In the 1910-11 Perry city directory issued by the Hoffine company, a listing is found for the "Little Gem Restaurant" at 318 Sixth street, which would place it on the east side of the square. I don't know if there is any connection with Wes Marcy's Gem Cafe of later years.

As I've noted before, each side of our square has had its own distinguishing characteristics through the years, and this brief reminiscence has made me aware once again that our central business district has been the location of some unique and fascinating folks who are well worth remembering. I miss every one of them.