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July 1, 1997

I spent an hour or so the other day with Craig Kemnitz while he conducted me on a tour of the antique shop operated by his wife's mother, Shirley Jerome, at the Mr. Discount Service Station, corner of Sixth and Grove. Shirley was unable to be with us because she was helping husband Moe with the wheat harvest that day, but ordinarily she runs the shop.

The business is only a few months old, but it's attracting more visitors (and buyers) as folks learn about it. Perry is drawing more and more tourists in search of this kind of memorabilia and other authentic articles from the past. The collection of antiques is a growing hobby throughout the U.S.A. and we in Perry are fortunate in having several places stocked with interesting, genuine articles that relate to this area's early days.

Craig is a relatively young man but he is not new at the game. He has always had an interest in history and things that bring it to life, according to his mom and dad, Charlie and Laura Kemnitz. The family's principal business interest is the string of oil and gas bulk agencies they operate, but all of them have been collectors of antiques as long as they can remember.

Not surprisingly, Craig and Charlie have assembled many pieces that relate to gas stations. They have a number of old pumps that once stood on the service driveway of their station at Sixth and Cedar. One of these pumps will be a conversation-starter at the new home of Mrs. Dwight Hamann's beauty salon just off the northwest corner of the square. A Sinclair gasoline sign was rescued from the old Jim Wilson Grocery building located across the alley east of the station. The metal sign had been covered with many coats of paint through the years, but it was cleaned down to the original Sinclair name with the use of paint thinner. It now hangs on the north wall of the Mr. Discount station.

Waiting in the wings for a place to be displayed are such things as an old D-X tank truck once used by the late LeRoy Williams to make bulk deliveries. The truck is now safely stored in a garage but Craig hopes to roll it into new quarters where the public can check it out, along with numerous other things. Among the latter are 17 handguns, never fired, there were originally collected by the late Hans Hoover.

At Shirley's Mr. Discount shop, you'll find old Coke glasses and root beer mugs, a 1930 bicycle given to the late Rudolph Zorba on his eighth birthday, a collection of belt buckles, crystal, a number of old vinyl records (including some by Elvis Presley), and a real mixture of fascinating pieces from decades of the past. Many old photos and signs are hung in the business office of the station because the shop area (which used to be a wash and lube bay for the station) is full to the brim. The shop has a one-drawer spring-loaded National Cash Register that is identical to one at the Kemnitz station on the square. Craig says a gentleman in Tulsa, who is in his 80s, has been the repairman for that cash register. When the Mr. Discount shop was opened, they found that he had an identical register so it was acquired for the antique business.

Craig is placing a large green canvass awning on the front of the downtown station to help restore the original look, something now being encouraged on a broad scale by the Perry Main Street organization. "We've always been interested in restoration and preservation of things," Craig says, "so we're happy to cooperate with Perry Main Street in all their efforts." It's a great attitude and one that is appreciated by those involved in the program to renovate this town's business district. Go visit Shirley's antique shop and all the other places that are drawing a growing number of visitors to Perry. You'll be well rewarded.