Pull into one metro-east service station and you can put gas in your tank and a beer on your tab.
Abdalla "Raqqa" Abraham has redesigned his Raqqa Food Mart at 10616 Lincoln Trail in Fairview Heights to include a bar with 16 beers on tap filled with domestic brews along with some craft and imported beers. Now known as Raqqa Lounge, the former convenience store has been gutted and reopened earlier this month with hardwood flooring, bar and three flat-screen TVs. Tables and chairs sit where shelves once stood.
Abraham, also known as Abdalla Ibrahem, bought the former Clark and Citgo gas station in 2002. He said he added beer on tap to help his lagging gas sales. He also owns a grocery and liquor store in St. Louis and had operated another liquor store at 701 Sherman St. in Belleville, which he closed earlier this year due to high state taxes.
"Recently, the gas business in Illinois has declined a lot and most people are going to St. Louis, and we don't make money on gas at all," Abraham said.
The native Peruvian said he got the idea to open a bar at his gas station after a recent trip that he and his wife, Lorena, took to his native country. Abraham said if he did not make the change or expand his business in Fairview Heights, he would have been forced to close it.
"I traveled last summer with my wife to Peru and the gas stations there serve beer and liquor. My wife said, 'Why don't you do that?' And I said, 'That's a good idea.'"
According to AAA-St. Louis spokesman Mike Right, U.S. gas consumption began to decline in 2008 as the nation was gripped in an economic recession. Right said that although gasoline use has recently increased, the country's consumption is not close to the level recorded before the recession.
"A lot of that is due to the fact that vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient," Right said. "Every new car or new truck that has been replaced is with a new one that gets minimum gas mileage that has 10 to 20 percent better fuel economy. For every older vehicle that is replaced, there is a significant reduction in demand for gasoline."
Abraham's quest for a liquor license was approved by the Fairview Heights City Council and then cleared by the state. He received his liquor license on May 20. But he said it wasn't easy.
"We did what they call 'jumping through hoops' in this country," he said. "We jumped through the hoops."
Mayor and city liquor commissioner Gail Mitchell said the gas station and adjoining convenience store had to be rezoned to accommodate the liquor license. He said the city understood Abraham's desire to expand his business beyond gas. Mitchell said it was an unusual request.
"That was a new one," Mitchell said. "It was special use permit. And I understand he's done pretty well."
Abraham said he has about 200 craft beers in stock and is also a franchisee of Louisiana-based Krispy Krunchy Chicken. Raqqa Lounge also serves pizza, wings and Philly Cheese Steak specials throughout the week and hosts live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights.
Abraham said most customers are surprised to find draft beer when they come inside to pay for gas.
"If you don't make money in gas, you have to make it somewhere else," he said. "I'm trying to do something different to be in business."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2526.