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Biasi’s Drug Store enjoyed longtime downtown presence

Biasi’s Drug Store enjoyed longtime downtown presence

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Photo courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History.

Biasi’s, a long time downtown Bloomington drug store, is seen here in the summer of 1969. Sadly, the Griesheim Building, located on the northeast corner of the Courthouse Square, was lost to a fire in late August 1984. Biasi’s had been a first-floor tenant in the Griesheim from 1922 until the fire.

For the better part of three generations, Biasi’s Drug Store was one of the busier places in downtown Bloomington.

In 1922, Edward C. Biasi opened a store on the northeast corner of the courthouse square. For the next 62 years Biasi’s was a fixture on the first floor of the six-story Griesheim Building (see accompanying photograph), with Biasi calling it “probably the very best business location of Bloomington.”

Raised in Dubuque, Iowa, Biasi began working in a drug store at the age of 12, and after a year or so he was busy “filling quinine capsules and packaging other drugs and waiting on a few customers about the store.” Around the same time he ran a summer concession selling popcorn and peanuts on a Mississippi River excursion steamer, and near the end of his high school years he was working nearly full-time at another drug store.

Biasi graduated from Northwestern University’s College of Pharmacy in 1912 and then worked as a druggist in Streator and East Dubuque, Ill. before opening his very own business in Pontiac in 1914.

Eight years later he purchased Bonnett’s, a drug store on the square in Bloomington, giving him a presence in two Central Illinois communities (the Pontiac store would close in 1944). When Biasi moved into Bonnett’s it featured old timey oak fixtures, plate glass wall cases, an elaborate 12-foot-long soda fountain, an ice box for cut flowers, and a cigar counter. There was also a cashier’s cage at the front of the store for the purpose of handling the heavy volume of change carried by streetcar motormen.

Edward Biasi also operated a drug store in Towanda from 1926-1933 and one at the corner of Market and Main streets in downtown Bloomington from 1928-1935. In early 1935, he opened another Bloom-ington store at 1501 E. Jackson St. (Today, this building houses the Robert John Hair Studio and Day Spa.)

The flagship store on the courthouse square was extensively remodeled over the years. To mark the store’s 15th anniversary in 1937, for instance, Biasi’s expanded its fountain and lunch counter service by some 20 seats while discontinuing the rental library, liquor department and electrical goods line.

The Great Depression was the heyday of fountain service, and many old timers will remember not only Biasi’s, but also Boylan’s and Hildebrandt’s, as well as soda shops such as Gus Schrolle’s. It’s hard to believe (or maybe not so hard) that until the mid-1950s, African Americans were often — if not always — unwelcome at downtown lunch counters and restaurants.

Biasi’s employed several female pharmacists in its early years, including Josephine Janes, who “retired from business life” in 1941, and Dorothy Thomas, who replaced James. There was also Tillie Mittlestaedt, manager of the East Jackson Street store when it first opened, and Florence Friedewald, book-keeper for 17 years.

On May 14, 1956, Biasi’s celebrated a milestone when Bloomington resident Glenn Patrick drew the store’s one millionth prescription.

Although Edward C. Biasi passed away in June 1963 at the age of 71, the business remained an ongoing concern as Biasi’s Drug Stores, Inc.

In 1973, pharmacists John L. “Jack” Ingold and Steven Richter purchased the drug store, though Ingold, who had worked there full-time since 1958, would become the sole owner.

Disaster struck in late August 1984, when the Griesheim Building was lost in one of the more spec-tacular fires in recent Twin City history. The blaze proved a complete loss for Ingold, though with the help of John McGinnis he opened a temporary location at the former Color Wheel store at 413 N. Main St. To his credit, Ingold (who passed away a year ago this month) never entertained the idea of moving his store to the city’s sprawling eastside.

In mid-October 1984, less than two months after the fire, Biasi’s was back on the eastside of the courthouse square, now in the Unity Building, a similarly impressive multistory professional building located on the south end of the block.

Incredibly, less than four years later, July 3, 1988, a fire destroyed the Unity Building. “Lightning does strike twice,” a stunned Ingold said the following day.

Biasi’s reopened that same month on the south side of the courthouse square, and in November 1990, the drug store moved into the newly constructed Snyder Building, which had replaced the Griesheim and Unity buildings as well as those sandwiched in between on the 200 block of North Main Street.

After three-quarters of a century in downtown Bloomington, Biasi’s closed for good on Jan. 18, 1997.


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