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New coffee shop perks up Armbrust

Mary Pickels
| Monday, Feb. 23, 2009

To step into He Brews Coffee and Convenience store along Route 819 in Armbrust is to take a step back in time, to the days when most communities, no matter how small, had a general store.

There are coolers of dairy products, racks of snacks and a shelf of everyday staples — bread, cake mix, canned goods.

Behind the register is a wall of items found at every five-and-dime — pens and pencils, work gloves, cough drops and bandages.

Hempfield resident Jay Sweitzer purchased the store and post office 18 months ago and reopened the business in June. He hopes to make the spot a community hub with a dash more variety and a splash more sophistication than the typical convenience store offers.

"This building was our bus stop all through high school," Sweitzer said, referring to himself and his wife, Betty Jean.

Betty Jean Sweitzer came up with the store's name.

"It's a mixed message," Sweitzer said. "I'm a person of faith. ... It takes a lot of faith and hope that this thing goes."

He's usually first in the store every morning and starts the coffee — thus, he brews.

A night shift maintenance employee for Super Valu, Sweitzer also has a contracting business that keeps him on the road a lot.

Those jobs came in handy when he decided to purchase the store. He was able to obtain surplus shelving and coolers and utilize his own and fellow contractors' handyman skills.

There's little else for several miles around for shoppers, he noted, unless people drive to Youngwood, Mt. Pleasant or Greensburg.

"You really need something there," Sweitzer said.

The store had been empty for about a year when the couple bought it.

They envisioned a specialty coffee shop with groceries on the side. But when gasoline shot up to $4 a gallon, many customers lost their taste for pricey cappuccinos. Customers now tend to purchase more of the catered meals and groceries.

Menu items range from breakfast pizza and baked goods to lunch soup and sandwich combinations. Several nights a week, dinner entrees are available.

"People get tired of fast food options," Sweitzer said.

Byron Eisaman, who lives in Mt. Pleasant Township, said he stops by often for lunch, or to pick up some takeout when it's his turn to handle dinner.

"It's really neat to have something close to here," he said. "We were glad to see it open. I come in for soup, mostly at lunchtime, or to pick up bread and milk. Even people in the community I talk to say how convenient it is. We missed it when it was closed."

Postmaster Tracey Smith appreciates the opportunity to step next door and pick up lunch.

"It's nice to come in for coffee in the morning or a chai tea," she said.

"We're trying to see what people want," Sweitzer said.

The same philosophy applies to the grocery end.

When a customer asked for pancake mix, which was not in stock at the time, Sweitzer said he'd have it the next day.

"And I did," he said.

Sweitzer said he does not expect to turn a profit immediately in what he called a long-term investment.

But he enjoys greeting people he has grown up with or has known for a long time when they walk in.

Most days his four part-time employees staff the store, but Sweitzer tries to spend time there on Saturdays.

"If I could make a living," he said, "I would be here every day."

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