Student story: Small businesses say something big for Collinsville community

Collinsville High SchoolJanuary 27, 2014 

With the recession coming to an end, family-owned businesses in Collinsville are thriving.

Ashmann's Pharmacy is no stranger to the Collinsville area. The pharmacy has sat in the same spot, 209 East Main St., since the early '60's. Before that, it was Campbell's Pharmacy. It's been a pharmacy for nearly 100 years.

"Within the last three years, we have lost three pharmacies in the area," said Lenny Locus, owner of Ashmann's Pharmacy. "You have to know that you can't take all of the money because a lot of it has to go back into the business."

Locus came to work at Ashmann's in 1967 doing deliveries, running the cash register and working as a pharmacy technician in the back. He was interested in chemistry and liked dealing with people so he entered pharmacy school. Joe Ashmann hired Locus as a pharmacist as soon as he graduated. Locus worked for the Ashmann's for nearly 40 years until he bought the business from Ashmann when he retired.

"Helping people by servicing them with their medication and how to take them is extremely important to us," Locus said. "We also go the extra mile to make our customers comfortable by doing home deliveries."

In a world where big grocery chains are on every corner, Spirito's Italian Grocery opens the community to Italian ideals of business, which means good food at affordable prices. Debbie Tetty has owned Spiritos for 10 years and two different locations.

"We're just a small, family-run place," Tetty said. "We only have three employees."

Spirito's is popular for many things, particularly the Italian sandwich. The sandwich generally sells out before lunch.

"People rush, honestly rush, for a sandwich," Tetty said.

Rosettes are also popular at the store. Local people love them for card club and get togethers.

In 2004, Tetty owned a building on Vandalia in Collinsville. With encouragement from her mother, she decided the area needed an Italian place like she went to when she was just a young girl and opened Spirito's.

"We named the store after my husband's grandfather, Spirito Chiarottino, who immigrated to the United States in 1908 from Italy," Tetty said.

With big restaurant chains potentially running family-owned places out of business, Cafe Agape Express has kept its doors open with good faith, good people and some great food. Pickneyville-native Ron McGee, owner of Cafe Agape Express, is a man of strong faith and keeps his customers happy with each bite of his sandwiches, hot dogs, soups, salads and more.

"We (the McGee family) started next door at First Baptist Church, we started a Wednesday night cafe in fall of 2010, basically to provide an outlet for people in the kids ministry, choir practice, and prayer meetings that night. God just put in on my heart to do a meal on Wednesday nights," McGee said. "We started with about 20 to 30 people and by May in 2011, it was up to 200, and that was how this place kind of came about. I kept passing the building and trusted in God, that's where the name comes from, and we just jumped right in and 20 months later we're still here."

Cafe Agape Express is located at 703 St. Louis Road in Collinsville. Agape is not the only restaurant that has been in this location. Park 'n Snack was there for a few years but left in the late 2000s.

Staying open is this economy is hard for anyone, but McGee makes it look easy with all of his success.

"We've met some really great people and to me, it's just a God thing; it's a calling. To me this is God's business and my blessing," McGee said. "It's just hard in the winter time, because we don't have indoor seating but we have some good pork steak on Wednesdays; they're our busiest days and we do fish on Fridays. It's just a matter of trusting in him and from a business standpoint, just doing the best you can to make it fair for you and your customers."

Agape has a wide variety of items on its menu with selections from original recipe hot dogs to made-from-scratch soups. Everything is made fresh.

With the word Agape meaning Christian love, McGee has shown his love for God spreads further to his customers.

"This isn't all God has planned for us I can tell you that," he said. "I don't know what his plans are but I would love to have a full scale cafe, not huge but 10 tables or so. Just somewhere our customers can sit, it can even be here."

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