Insurance women do it their way
They call themselves "three old chicks and a chickadee."
The chickadee is Christy Lexow, 36, who last year bought Maryland Moats Insurance Agency, a 92-year-old business in Granite City. The chicks are Molli Beck, Jan Bain and Debbie Householder, who worked for former owner Ken Moats.
The three women stayed on with Lexow, helping her merge her Edwardsville agency into Maryland Moats Lexow Insurance, and they seemed to have a good time doing it.
"(Lexow is) a young fireball," said Beck, 65, office manager. "We went to a computer system, which we had never done before. We gutted the entire building, and we went paperless. We've accomplished a lot in a year's time."
Renovation of the 1926 brick building was perhaps the most challenging part. Workers tackled half at a time, and the women never missed a day of work.
One of the renovation highs was when workers removed a wall of paneling and discovered the original picture window with old-fashioned lettering, glass blocks on either side and a few unexplained bullet holes.
One of the lows was having to replace the window.
"We couldn't keep it because it was pane glass," Lexow said. "It wasn't tempered. You just couldn't have that in the insurance business. You can't take that risk."
Workers also removed pink and blue shag carpeting and mallard-duck wallpaper and decorated in a modern, quasi-industrial style with tall ceilings, wood floors and sliding doors.
Lexow and Beck filled the office with vintage items, such as a 1905 cash register made of wood and metal; a toy fire engine that belonged to Lexow's father, Larry; and a 1963 Corvair hood that serves as a message board.
A wall in the small conference room is covered with license plates from all 50 states. Beck's husband, Kendall, welded together 1931 Model A Ford wheels to form the table base. Chairs are made of old metal signs.
Focal points of the kitchen include a stoplight and railroad-crossing sign. The bathroom has a Harley-Davidson theme. Up front, the women make popcorn in a reproduction antique popcorn machine.
"It's different than most insurance agencies," Beck said.
"We're all women, and we try to think outside the box," Lexow added.
The business opened in 1926 as Maryland Realty, named for the Maryland neighborhood of Granite City. It later expanded to include Madison County Mutual (now Madison Mutual) Insurance products.
After a couple of owners, farmer Ken Moats bought the business in 1985. He operated it until March of last year.
"Ken came to me and said, 'Hey, do you want to buy my business?'" Lexow said. "I wanted to grow, and I said, 'Why not? We'll see what happens.'"
The public is invited to an open house from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Maryland Moats Lexow Insurance at 2166 Pontoon Road in Granite City. It will include a classic-car show, bounce house, refreshments and giveaways.