Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Niam's Parkette: Now only a happy memory

The newspaper photos of the demolition of the old building on Locust Street was a melancholy epilogue to the colorful Niam Era in downtown Akron.  The imposing red brick structure that housed Niam's Parkette  - a Runyonesque daytime eatery that lured   characters from across political, social and class lines simply because the food was decently prepared even if one was not always prepared for the next intense encounter ignited by heart-felt disagreement over whether the coach or an official had contributed to a loss by the Notre Dame football team.

Ed Niam, pater familias of all things sports in his circle  of patrons, was not easily persuaded by those who questioned his authoritative version of the game since he had long  adopted the Fighting  Irish as one of its scouts after his childhood buddy
Ara Parseghian was named the coach. Soon afterward, an overhead glass  case stretching the length of the booths began displaying  the team's memorabilia. A Notre Dame headgear, suspended from the ceiling, wafted above the  cash register.  You get the picture. Ed Niam was not a man of modest loyalties.

As one of the diner's  regulars,  I met my dentist there.  I met my urologist there. I lunched with physicians, lawyers, bookies, politicians, coaches, cops and guys that I didn't dare ask their lines of work.

But by the mid-1990s, after nearly a half-century  of serving as a highly informal  lunchtime  showplace  for people needing a boisterous break from the office, the diner began to constrict the pace, the humor, the old-time theatrics.  Ed Niam, 75 and stricken with a failing heart, died just before Christmas, 1996. His tireless wife, Gerrie,  who labored at the grill for ages to guarantee the customers a hot meal, hung on for awhile with the aid of a son  but the end came for her last July. (By then the diner had already  housed two other tenants,   Meeker's Kitchen and Wally Waffle.) The building's owner, Paul Salem,  Gerrie's brother, sold the building  to Children's Hospital,which will replace it with a Critical Care Tower.

But the memories will persist with the ghost of Ed Niam thumbing through his football "spot cards" to pick the winners of the week end football games  while people waited at his station at the cash register to pay their bills.   Somewhere in the hospital's new digs, there ought to be a tribute to what went on in an earlier life.


David Hess said...

Abe, a fitting tribute to a Runyonesque restaurateur.

Don Niam said...

As always Abe, you make magic out of words. Thanks for placing this story on your blog. The photo's on Ohio.com are tough for me to look at. I spent the better part of my life at the Restaurant. I was really young. Can't even remember how old i was 7 or 8 yrs. old maybe. My dad would open for the Hower High trade school at night. They would all come in at once and order milkshakes, coke, (soda) chips etc. I think there were a couple crews that came through. I would serve them at the counter, floor and run cash register. That would not be acceptable today, but it was a great childhood looking back. I was taught how to run the cash register at 7 years old. It's funny to me today, because companies had to set cash registers up to count the change for employees due to not able to give correct change. When i was young, i took the Restaurant for granted. But what a great memory and so many wonderful people that i met coming through the door everyday. Seeing you still write about the Restaurant means a lot to me, you always seem to maintain the Legacy of Niam's Parkette.
Hope you and all the family are well,
Don Niam

Ed said...

Nice story--Brought back some memories for me