Written by William Bryant Rozier
If you listen to the audio playback of Isaac Perry’s interview, you will hear intermittent Morse code-like tapping coming from the seventy-year-old entrepreneur that could be interpreted as nervous energy finding a target.
The sound is Perry rubbing his hands together and hitting the table; he got excited talking about his job. It’s the drum beat of a business owner still in love with his profession, “like I [was] the first day,” he said. “I always jump when the phone ring because that’s a blessing.”
Isaac Perry didn’t even have time to stand still for a picture that would have been taken in 1/125th of a second; his portrait for this article is an action shot. Perry was in motion for the next client and on the way to drive. And Perry driving is a natural occurrence. How many times has that all-white, Perry Carpet & Furniture Cleaning van driven passed you at a stoplight?
Perry moved up north from Alabama in 1971, “hungry, needing some work, and wanting to make some money,” Perry said. “These jobs up here were nothing. I worked in the fields all day [back home].”
Among his more random jobs down South, he worked as a horse trainer, walking horses to big shows all over the State of Alabama. Perry felt safe enough. “If you stayed in your place, you didn’t have any trouble,” Perry said about his home town’s racial climate. Perry recalled how his family (four girls and five boys) would sit outside the Dairy Queen eating their ice cream, because indoor dining was out of the question in their 5,000-resident town.
Both parents were hard workers but his “mom was pretty strict and harder than my dad.” The Perry kids had to be home by 9 P.M. “When she looked at you, you had better be home,” Perry said.
When he moved to Fort Wayne, his parents hadn’t retired yet. Mike’s Carwash, nine hours a day, was his first city job. While third-shift working at Dana Corporation, Perry worked first shift and part-time at Top Hat dry cleaning company; his wife, Mary, whom Perry had brought up from Alabama, got him in.
But Perry got a call to clean carpets so he did, after buying the proper equipment himself. The owner of Top Hat purchased his own carpet cleaning equipment after he got wind of what Perry did. Both men decided to combine equipment for their new niche.
“The owner promised me 20 percent but that 20 percent never showed up,” Perry said, who left after about three years to start his cleaning business as a day-time job in 1979. He didn’t leave his full-time gig at Dana until 1990 when he resigned from Dana when third-shift job and got moved to first shift.
“I tell kids you don’t never give up your dreams, you keep that dream going,” Perry said. “People ask ‘why don’t you retire?’ Why would I want to retire, sit down and dry up?”
Perry Carpet & Furniture Cleaning Service started with one part-time employee. At their professional height, Perry has had as many as 12 employees. Mary Perry still answers the phone with eloquence and southern hospitality. His son, Hakim Muhammad (born Chris Perry), residential manager, works to upgrade the business for the twenty-first century.
Perry owns a full-service janitorial (not just carpet cleaning) company. If you don’t need your carpet cleaned, you might need your tiles done, or one of Perry’s many other services.
To listen to Isaac Perry’s interview, and other archived interviews, visit the website for the Awesome Frost documentary project (now closed) from the shuttered Frost Illustrated Newspaper and the African/African American Historical Society & Museum (AAAHSM) of Allen County: www.AwesomeFrost.com
Perry Carpet & Furniture Cleaning Service, 5421 Decatur Road, Fort Wayne, IN 46806, (260) 456-1908