As traffic flows, so flows commerce. That is to say, if you’re an entrepreneur, you want to be where the people are, or where the need for your services is greatest. Perry Campbell, an area businessman for almost 60 years, seemed to embody that idea.
Perry was born February 4, 1928, down the brand-new stretch of Highway 67 near Hope. At the time, there weren’t many facilities for travelers in the area since the highway had only existed since 1926. Fortunately for the area, Campbell’s entrepreneurial spirit would address the issue once he became an adult.
Local pastor Gary Johnson, who had opportunity to interview the otherwise insular Campbell later in life (in February of 2004), said Campbell’s own timeline of businesses mentioned what Perry called two “hamburger joints” in downtown Hope. Both, Campbell said, had failed. He then ran the Oaks Café for some time before opening Perry’s Truck Stop and Restaurant in what would eventually become Perrytown.
According to Campbell’s long-time friend Larry Moses, a semitruck broke down one day near Perry’s home. After helping the man get running again, the driver mentioned that the location would be a good one for a mechanic of some kind, setting in motion the idea for the truck stop that would secure the quiet, reserved Campbell a place in history.
Campbell, who served in the Army during the Korean War, opened Perry’s Truck Stop and Restaurant in 1955 after the end of the conflict. The full-service stop, which would grow to include shower facilities and overnight accommodations for long-haul truckers coming through the area, blossomed into the largest truck stop in the state. It would hold that title for several years before Interstate 30 drew traffic away from Highway 67.
Campbell’s businesses grew around the truck stop, adding Perry’s Congress Inn (a motel), and a restaurant that Perry would eventually turn into apartments. Campbell would also sell vehicles, and the location of the truck stop would even host a barber shop. By 1963, when the area around the truck stop was incorporated into Perrytown, a namesake that Campbell initially refused, there was a second motel, greenhouses, a gift shop, watermelon stands, and store for groceries, shoes, and clothing.
Wick Temple, writing for the Associated Press, called Campbell a “space-age pioneer who fights wilderness with a battery of neon signs and a diesel gas pump” in an article published in the Hope Star when the town was officially incorporated.
There are many types of entrepreneurs who make the world go ‘round. Some are interested only in personal profit while others strive to give something back to the communities that they came from. Fortunately for Hope and Perrytown, it seems Perry Campbell was in the latter category. He established Providence Memorial Baptist Church in Perrytown, set up a volunteer fire department, and, in 1970, took over operation of the ambulance service in Hempstead County.
Unfortunately for Perry’s Truck Stop and Restaurant, as well as the other businesses in Perrytown, 1971 would see Interstate 30 come through Hope, drawing commercial traffic away from the amenities that the little town had to offer. Campbell would open the Millwood Inn and Restaurant at Saratoga Landing at Lake Millwood, which would operate until the lake traffic dried up.
Campbell would open Perry’s and Co., another restaurant in Hope, situated in the “S-curve” on Highway 67 on the location of the former Town & Country restaurant. Shortly thereafter, he would open Western Sizzlin’ and Best Western near the interstate in the mid-1980s. Later, Perry would also open Quality Inn and Holiday Inn Express around 1997.
In 1994, Campbell was honored as Hempstead County’s Citizen of the Year. He served as mayor of Perrytown for many years, and was a University of Arkansas Alumni, member of the Clinton Birthplace Foundation Board, and was inducted into the Arkansas Hospitality Association Hall of Fame in 1996, among many other honors.
Campbell’s final business venture would be the opening of Dos Loco Gringos Mexican Food and Steakhouse in 2001. On his 77th birthday, February 4, 2005, the city of Hope declared February 4 “Perry Campbell Day” to honor the achievements of a life-long businessman and member of the community. Later that year, on October 9th, Perry Campbell passed away at a hospital in nearby Texarkana.