Downtown memories for sale

A piece of local history is going on the auction block this weekend. A former employee recalls his years spent at the Perry Refrigeration building and Perry Restaurant.

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October 22, 2020 - 10:02 AM

This weekend, the property at 203 South Street in Iola is going up for sale at auction, but along with a number of unique items is a treasure-trove of memories. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

A piece of local history is going up for sale this weekend.

On Saturday, the property at 203 South St., roughly a half-block south of the courthouse clock, is going to be auctioned, along with a vast number of items within (including quite a few antiques and collectibles).

Some of the most intriguing pieces include: Coca-Cola and Pepsi brand coolers, lighted beer signs, milk cans, a popcorn machine and more.

But the recent history connected to the building extends beyond any specific objects, so the Register sat down with Gregg Hutton to plumb his memory to find out more.

Hutton worked for Herschel (“H.H.”) and Barbara Perry when he was young, both at the building up for auction when it was a refrigeration shop, and at Perry’s Restaurant. 

The building that housed the restaurant burned down in August 1990 along with several other businesses on the west side of the downtown square, but according to Hutton, the refrigeration shop remains largely as it was.

He recalled when Perry sold air conditioners and furnaces there, as well as worked on refrigerators and freezers.

Perry also rented out ice machines to folks all over the area, though the shop was idle long before his death in late 2019.

Perry’s passing was one of the primary factors responsible for the building auction and collectibles sale, along with Barbara now living at Windsor Place nursing home.

Perry’s Restaurant. Register file photo

AS FOR some of Hutton’s specific memories of working for Perry, he said “I was the muscle,” and would help out whenever Perry might “need help carrying stuff.”

Despite a lifelong friendship, Hutton admitted that his relationship to Perry began with a bit of harmless deception.

“I told him I was 13,” he grinned, “and I was actually 12.”

At the time, you weren’t allowed to have a formal job until reaching your teenage years; and ironically, Hutton then worked for Perry for the next “12-13 years” that followed.

“Most of my time was spent at the restaurant,” he said, where he went from being “the clean-up kid” to becoming one of the head cooks.

“I can still picture how everything was.”

“So many people used to come in the restaurant down there,” he added, and noted how he remembered watching the Challenger space shuttle explosion on television there, then running to inform Perry and everyone else.

Hutton also laughed that Perry liked to joke about how the younger man “used to eat him out of house and home,” and that he often indirectly paid him in food.

“I wasn’t smart enough to learn the refrigeration business,” Hutton laughed. “Which is what I should have done.”

RECENTLY, Hutton said he was able to go back inside Perry’s shop, where he was hit by a flood of memories.

“There was some stuff that was exactly the way it was,” he said, including items that had been saved or salvaged from the burned restaurant.

“The cabinets were still the same,” he remarked, “and the old bathroom, too.”

“It was really nostalgic for me,” Hutton said, “but it was sad, too.”

One memory in particular that returned, was of attending an enormous Christmas party blowout in the shop.

“It was like an all-night dinner,” he said, and noted how the celebrations became so large over the years that it became almost impossible to accommodate everyone.

Along with memories of the old shop, Hutton has equally fond recollections of Perry, including his penchant for saving parts that he might be able to use later to save customers money on repairs.

“There were shelves in front,” he said. “They were full of parts, pieces and dials.”

As for Perry, “he was a character,” Hutton remarked. “Let’s put it that way.”

“I thought the world of him.”

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