Then and Now; photos of Perry past and present.
This photo of Decker’s ice cream shop is what initially captivated me. For whatever reason, this photo in particular, from the Clark Rice Collection, served as the inspiration for my project. As I studied the picture, I found myself confronted with a strange sense of sadness. This photo seemed to be a snapshot of loss. Deckers had long been gone, yet here I was staring at the shop in the midst of success. I began to wonder what stood in its location today. This became the driving force of my project. I decided to visit Perry and try to find the actual locations of a few select photos of Perry’s past, and take new photos of those same locations today. Going into this project I was very curious regarding what I would find. I myself live in Wayland NY, a distant neighbor of Perry, and I wondered how similar Perry today would be compared to my home town. With these considerations in mind I set out to Perry to take some photos.
I worked with the photos in the Clark Rice Photography Collection and I visited several locations in Perry which had been included in the collection. The first stop I made was at the Perry Town Hall. This was the easiest location to find as the town had made the decision to maintain the integrity of the original building, the town bank. This is self-evident when the two photos are viewed side by side. After stopping at the Town hall, just a little further down Main Street was the next location I was looking for, a bookstore/cafe called the Biblio-Tech Cafe. This used to be the Royce and Wright department store, which sold Nitey Nite sleepwear from the PK. I had an easy time figuring out the location of where the department store was because, thankfully, there was an address included on the Clark Rice photo. Although the original photo was taken in the upstairs of the Royce and Wright Department store, I was only able to access the downstairs which is what I got a photo of.
The next location I searched for was a Ford garage operated by Fred Watkins and Frank McKurth. As it turns out the garage, built in 1917, is now a bowling alley. The Perry Bowling Center is just off of Main Street on Covington Street. Because it has a similar structure to that of the original building, it is easy to see how the two buildings are one and the same. Now, though, there was a GMC truck outside of the former garage.
Then I was on my way toward the outskirts of Perry, heading north from the heart of town. Today at this location on North Center Street there is Sweet Sarah’s, an ice cream shop. In the past this building used to be an outlet store for the Perry Knitting Company. Nitey Nites were childrens' sleeping garments, the primary product produced by the mill during the 1940s-60s. It was interesting to consider the legacy of the Perry Knitting Company from outside one of the buildings which used to be an outlet store. Although the Knitting Company is long gone, there is still promise and opportunity. I will speak more towards this later on.
Returning back to Main Street now, I circled back to Decker’s Diner. At 12 North Main Street where Deckers was once located, today KM dance center takes its place. I've included again the photo of Deckers here, hopefully to provide an easier comparison between the past and present photos.
After I had traveled around the town of Perry, what kept occurring to me was that sense of loss I mentioned at the beginning. The more places I traveled to, the more I felt that sense fade away.There is opportunity and promise in the town of Perry, and this is evidenced by the fact that although the businesses and places from the Clark Rice Photography Collection no longer exist, new businesses and buildings occupy these same spaces. It is important to remember that, even in the past, it is the people who sustain the local businesses of Perry. There are still many small businesses in Perry today which are supported almost entirely by the local community. This was undoubtedly very much the same in the past as well. Business has not disappeared from the community; rather, it has evolved and changed. The reason behind the continuing existence of local business in Perry can be traced back to the people of Perry.
For this reason I conclude with the picture shown here: workers of the Perry Knitting Company sitting down to lunch, probably during the 1910s-20s. I think that it captures the sentiment of resilience and permanence that I am trying to express. Just as the people in the photo worked, raised families, and supported the community, there are people today doing the same. As time passes, it is important that we don't waste our time pining for the past. Nostalgia can be powerful, and as time progresses and problems arise it is all too easy to convince ourselves that the glory days are over. In the past Perry was sustained by its people. Today, the town of Perry and its businesses are sustained by the people. People are the heart of Perry and its history.
Note: My thanks to Sarah Ballinger, Perry Town Clerk, for a map and her suggestions.