Ethnic Heritage Museum profiles local businesses

Ethnic Heritage Museum, 1129 S. Main St., Rockford, will host a September-October exhibit featuring local businesses, past and present. A special Open House Honor Event will be from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Museum.

Irish-Welch's Cheese Hut

The Irish exhibit will feature Welch’s Cheese Hut Tavern & Restaurant. Joe and Wee Welch first opened a billiards parlor on Elm Street in the early 1920s. Later, they moved to northern Winnebago County for a brief business venture at the southwest corner of highways 51 and 173, but returned to 314 Elm St. in 1935 to open Welch’s Tavern.

The Welch brothers operated there for four years before moving to 118 S. Wyman St., where they stayed for 16 years. In 1955, they moved to 3201 Auburn St., where they continued until they sold the business and retired in 1960.

After retiring from the tavern business, Joe enjoyed gardening and being with his grandchildren until he died in 1963. Wee worked for Lorden Distributors and traveled to visit nieces and nephews. He died in 1968.

The Bob Special

Welch’s Cheese Hut was a first job for hundreds of west-side kids and a first date for many couples. But what most people remember is the Bob Special, a huge double hamburger loaded with toppings. Here’s a little history:

Eventually, Welch’s Tavern needed to have food available for its customers, so when the space next door became available, it soon became a restaurant for the bar. Serving sandwiches and dinners, it soon became a popular spot. The restaurant was owned by Bob and Mary Hazen, daughter and son-in-law of Joe Welch.

In 1955, when the tavern lost the lease on the Wyman Street property, the Auburn Street location was selected because it would still allow the two businesses to work together, although this time each would stand alone. The restaurant would become a drive-in with a delicatessen, and an intercom system would connect the tavern for patrons who wanted to order food.

Catering became a big part of the business, including weddings to corporate functions and many other events. Drive-ins were going out of style, and in the late 1960s, the deli was turned into a dining room featuring homemade soups, casseroles and salads.

After more than 30 years in business, Bob Hazen closed the restaurant in March 1984 following the death of his wife.

Italian-M. Spinello Locksmith

This year, the Spinello Locksmiths celebrate 100 years of business in Rockford. Their name means quality security products and services that people depend on, and they serve more than 9,500 residential, commercial and industrial accounts in northern Illinois.

For the past 20 years, M. Spinello and Son have been expanding with new security products and services. These include professional installation of card-added access control, intercom systems, keyless entry, closed-circuit TV monitoring systems, digital video recording and video teleconferencing.

The family’s expertise has been handed down through four Italian generations (Jimi White and Matthew Spinello). Matthew F. Spinello now does inside sales at 522 Chestnut St. He researches and purchases the lock and hardware products to make sure every product meets the high-quality standards the company insists on. Jimi White handles electronic security outside sales, including closed-circuit television, intercom systems and card access systems.

Italian-Dal Pra Grocery store

In Rockford, the name One Stop Pacemaker had been a household name for many years. It all started with Ampellio “Pep” and brother Tony Dal Pra in 1943. At age 16, Pep worked for Panozzo Grocery, Pamilia Grocery, Logli on North Main, and Lammia Grocery on West State Street. Then, he tried factory work, but later joined the Navy. After his service duty ended, with his prior grocery experience, his brother Tony asked him to buy into the grocery business. Tony mortgaged his home, and Pep came up with $1,500. Their first store opened in 1945 at 3903 Broadway. In 1950, they moved to 3816. They achieved their dream of a second store in 1960 at Marchesano Drive; this store was in operation for 12 years.

In 1965, they opened the Belvidere store, only to see it destroyed by a tornado on April 21, 1967. It was a sad time, but the store was rebuilt and is still open. They also operated two other stores, one in Edgebrook and one on Harlem Road, which were later sold.

In the early years, Tony and Pep worked long hours, and their wives and children saw little of them. Rose, Pep’s wife, recalls taking their three children in their red wagon to see their father at the store, and preparing many pasta dinners for the brothers and their employees. Mary, Tony’s wife, recalls her children helping with chores and delivering groceries.

After working in the business many years, Tony died in 1989, and Pep retired in 1990. Though Pep is no longer involved in the operation, the Pacemaker is still operated by Tony’s children, Sheri Casey and Tony Jr. They now operate two stores, Pacemaker in Belvidere and another in Durand.

African-American-Ubquity Records

“The Sonny Crudup Experience” began several years ago when Sonny, his wife, Cherry, and daughter, Jurea, moved to Rockford from Chicago. Sonny, the sole proprietor of Ubiquity Records, 1701 W. State St., recalls the decision to move his family to Rockford: frequent visits to his dad, Jordan Crudup, in Rockford, as well as the opportunities the city had to offer.

Sonny found that Chrysler was the only factory that would employ him. During his tenure at Chrysler, Sonny dreamed of one day owning his own record shop. Rockford was the perfect place to try, as there were a limited number of African-American businesses and no African-American record shops.

In July 1972, Sonny and Richard Meeks opened Essence Records. Within six months, it became the biggest minority-owned record shop in the greater Rockford area.

In October 1973, the Rev. Hanson asked Sonny to do his own radio program on WRRR. Through this program, which lasted three years, the store became even more popular. A branch store was opened on the corner of Kent and Winnebago streets in 1974. In 1976, the partnership was dissolved, and the radio program name was changed to The Sonny Crudup Experience.

Sonny kept the property on Kent Street and renamed it Ubiquity Records. He operated for six months, when he began to realize the location was not suitable for his purpose. Having considered the location at 1701 W. State St. for five years, as soon as it became available in 1976, he immediately bought it.

While Cherry operated the store on Kent Street, Sonny and his brother, Steve, worked night and day in preparation for the new Ubiquity Records. Nine months later, the new store opened. By December 1977, two stores were too much to handle, so the store on Kent Street was closed. Sonny, now a respected member of the minority business community, feels the minority community needs to go through a re-education process, and a small group of citizens is working to make this a reality.

Museum hours and information

Ethnic Heritage Museum is open regularly Sunday afternoons from 2 to 4 p.m. Members of the Welch family will be present at the Sept. 24 event. For more information, call the Museum at 962-7402.

From the Sept. 20-26, 2006, issue

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