Perry is growing in several directions at once, and the energy behind the growth is local and long term.
On the housing front, two-plus years of steady efforts are starting to bear fruit. Opportunities are appearing for low- and middle-income people to improve their surroundings in the Hamlin-Bell and Willis Avenue apartment complexes, and middle- and upper-income people in search of new homes can thank the city’s housing needs assessment and urban revitalization plan for the likelihood of some new housing starts on the horizon.
When it comes to jobs, Perry is also poised soon to attract light-industrial business to the Perry Industrial Park, where the 2015 attainment of site certification offers factory owners shovel-ready space for growth and development. The stage is set for Perry industry and Perry economic development. All that is needed are the deep-pocketed actors.
Complementing this ferment in the residential and industrial zones is the emergence of several new commercial ventures in the downtown area, starting with the opening of Perry Floral Greenhouse and Gifts at 1620 Pattee St., the 24-year site of Hartman Floral.
Trish Roberts and Denise Levan, two Perry women known for their energetic action, bought the shop from Jim and Ruth Hartman in order to keep the Perry community in flowers.
“We opened because our community has a need,” Roberts said. “We didn’t want our flower shop to go away. There really wasn’t anybody else to fill that need if Hartmans closed, so that was part of what drove us. We felt it was just something the town really needed. We’re going to be here for the foreseeable future, so let’s do our part and run the business and actually make money along the way.”
If Roberts’ was partly calculated business decision and partly Perry boosterism, Levan’s was more spontaneous.
“I just jumped in with Patty,” Levan said. “She’s the power lady. I was more, ‘Oh, we’ll run a gift shop. Won’t that be nice?'”
“I always wanted a little gift shop,” Roberts said, “so between the two of us, we said, ‘We can really do this.’ It was a spur-of-the-moment thing over coffee. We said, ‘You know what? If we’re going to do it, we’d better do it,’ and so we did, and here we are.”
“They’re like Thelma and Louise,” said Marcia Scharf of Grimes, who completes the flowering triumvirate, so to speak, bringing more than 20 years of experience as a floral designer to the business.
“We didn’t want it to go away,” Roberts said of the greenhouse and flower business that first opened more than 100 years ago as Pansyland. “We didn’t want some big person to come in and buy it and not make it what it was. We wanted to take what the Hartmans had and add to it.”
Roberts has some background in retail management, including running a floral department for a large metro grocery chain. That was where she met Scharf, who knew something of Perry’s flower shops, having worked at Schappaugh’s in high school, as Roberts was surprised to learn.
“When I first worked with Marsha,” Roberts said, “and was going to order flowers, she said, ‘Oh, you’re calling Schappaugh’s?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ because it was Schappaugh’s before it was Hartman’s, and Marcia remembered it as Schappaugh’s.”
It sounds like their three-handed coordination of tasks has fallen into place naturally, with everyone taking things as they come.
“It’s a good threesome,” Scharf said. “It works well. We all jump in wherever we need to.”
Other signs of commercial progress are cropping up along the Second Street corridor. For instance, Sandy Grubbs of rural Perry is remodeling the old Walt’s Sporting Goods store at 1118 Second St. for Sherrylin Miner of Perry, who will operate a retail trade in new and used home accessories and furniture .
“This knotty pine is all coming down,” Grubbs said, taking a break from a long workday. “And we’re putting in a stairway in the back to the upper story.” She said she is getting useful input from Eric Peterson, who with his wife, the artist Betsy Peterson, recently remodeled and reopened the old Joebgen’s Shoes at 1121 Second St.
Grubbs has owned and managed residential rental properties in Woodward for a number of years, but the downtown Perry venture is a new direction for her.
“I wanted to try a commercial space for a change of pace,” she said, “and I also thought it would it would be a good investment in my community.”
Grubbs is also an active member of the Nudgers Group, which has successfully restored several dilapidated downtown Perry buildings by leveraging local financing. With effort, she said, the block between Willis Avenue and Warford Street can be brought back to life and given a face lift.
Grubbs pointed to other examples of downtown growth, such as Emily Leslie’s recent purchase of the Dillenbeck Building at 1124 Second St., where restoration work was arrested by the sudden death in January of Des Moines architect and developer Kirk Blunck. Leslie’s plans for the prime real estate are still forming.
After-hours construction has also been seen inside the former home of Stoner’s Meats at 1305 Second St., which will soon become the new home of Sister’s Beauty Salon. Sister’s will leave the rental property at 1102 Second St., the store formerly housing Conklin’s Jewelers for many years on the northeast corner of Second Street and Willis Avenue, and move into their own building.
Finally, Theresa B’s in the name of the new clothing outlet at 1226 Second St., recently opened in the property owned by the Perry-Area Chamber of Commerce and used as a seedbed for downtown startups. The hours of operation of the store are still in flux.
In sum, Perry’s residential, industrial and commercial zones are all growing in ways that complement the agricultural basis of the community. As with the fields surrounding Perry, the timely application of fertilizer could rapidly boost the growth in all three zones.