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.