The recent word that Wally Waffle was moving from its Locust Street home to a spot in Highland Square would hardly have deserved more than a passing glance in the ways of Akron eateries. Restaurants seem to open and close somewhere every day. But even as routine as it sounds, Wally Waffle's departure will mark the epilogue of the story at the old place that, for some of us, at least, was a hometown landmark that began more than a half-century ago as Niam's Parkette.
The place, as nurtured by Ed and Gerrie Niam, was a breakfast -and-light-lunch haven that opened at dawn, a shrine to Notre Dame, a hangout for some of the town's most colorful characters with improbable stories, bookies, cops, business types, Amishmen, lawyers, and if I'm not mistaken, urologists, dentists and a guy who made all of the orange barrels that we are forced to navigate on Ohio's highways. Other than arriving in Eddie's presence at the same time with the same sworn-to truths every day, the Parkette denizens were not a homogenous group of human beings.
It was a place that would have qualified for one of A. J. Liebling's loving essays on the assembly of New Yorkers who could be encountered at any number of out-of-the-way storefronts in the 1930s. Casual, often with matters in dispute, it was a retreat safely out of the way of buttoned-down social niceties, a place where you could talk to somebody by raising your voice from several booths away.
But over the years, the little restaurant was turned over to a series of managers and Ed and Gerrie passed on. A few years ago, the long-time owner of the building, Paul Salem, Gerrie's brother, sold it outright to Akron Children's Hospital , which wanted it for its expansion plans.
It's said that nothing lasts forever -- unless you were part of the thinning Parkette gang. It's not only the stories we could tell about the place. It's the stories we still want to tell.