Many Perry residents sadly remember when Joebgen Shoes closed their doors in August 2012 after more than 22 years as a pillar of Perry’s downtown retailing community. But bustle and stir are returning to 1121 Second St. as Betsy and Eric Peterson revamp the space into a gallery and art studio.
The Petersons are working artists producing a range of whimsical sculpture, kitchenware and pottery. Several pieces of public art around Perry come from the studio of Betsy Peterson Designs, which is known for its wooden figures and signs made “from the heart.”
Their expansion into the downtown business and cultural district is a new chapter for the Petersons, who have worked for many years on their property east of Perry in a barn they converted into a studio and gallery.
“Eric and I have kicked around 101 ideas” for the new building, Betsy Peterson said, “and we’re not quite sure what will unfold as we move forward.” She has a vision, she said, “but I’m not sure I’ve boiled it down yet.”
The renovation is in full swing. They sold many leftover fixtures at a garage sale in April and are gradually clearing out the building and pondering how the space might be divided.
“It’s an 18-foot ceiling,” Betsy said, “and I don’t feel comfortable putting the wall all the way up to the ceiling. It would kind of ruin the open, airy feel of it right now. So we’ll take a look at a couple of different places and see how they’ve divided up their space and continue to get ideas about how to make this space come alive.”
They see potential in the 88-year-old building.
“We know there’s a great ceiling,” Eric said, “and we’re hoping there’s a wood floor underneath it that we can sand and bring back. The more open space you see, the more exciting it looks. That’s the wait and see.”
Studio arrangements are still up in the air. Eric said he is planning to do at least some of his pottery work in the downtown space.
“It seems like it would be good to do something like that maybe during high-traffic times–like Friday, Friday night, Saturday night–when people are in town,” he said. “I like to show the process. I think some folks might find that interesting. Pottery has a lot of dust and dirt and heavy equipment, so I’ll always do a lot of my work out here (at home), but maybe porcelain in there or earthenware that I throw and Betsy does painting on. But that’s all to be determined later.”
One thing is certain: Betsy will often be seen in the downtown cultural district gallery.
“Until I retire, she’ll be the person there,” Eric said, “and a good amount of her work will probably take place there, too. So she’ll be the one there mostly all during the day and the business contact person. As for the whole plan, we’re just not real certain what other things will take place there.”
Everyone with an interest in the economic vitality of Perry is glad to see a long-vacant storefront reoccupied, but the Petersons also have well wishers of a personal kind.
“Pat (Joebgen) and her family have been very supportive and are excited to see a new chapter start as well,” Betsy said. “They have been very encouraging and very supportive.”
John and Patricia Joebgen opened their shoe store on Second Street in 1990 and made their life and living in Perry, raising three children, selling thousands of shoes and showing their patrons the true Perry customer service.
When John Joebgen died in May 2012, Patricia decided to close the store and retire. Dozens of friends, neighbors and fellow community members volunteered to help her prepare for Joebgen Shoes’ liquidation sale.
The Petersons’ new property has a lot of history behind it.
The lot first housed a bank beginning in 1888 and then a jewelry and drug store at the turn of the twentieth century. It was home to the Perry Candy Kitchen, later the Perry Candy Co., from 1912 until 1919, and longtime Perry jewelers Milliken and Major operated there from 1919 until the building was destroyed by fire.
In 1927 the J. C. Penney Co. built and opened a store on the southwest corner of Second and Warford streets, and company founder James Cash Penney visited his Perry story the following year.
Penney’s closed in 1986 after 59 in business in Perry.
According to Eric Peterson, language in the original 1927 deed specified the building may never be used as a pool hall or a billiard parlor. He said he feels bound to honor the terms of the original deed.
Luckily for Perry and the Petersons, new varieties of entertainment and enrichment have cropped up since the days when beer and billiards found themselves in the crosshairs of the local suppressors of vice. On the continuity side, the old Penney’s and Joebgen’s building will again be a source of beautiful and useful things for the people of Perry.