"A lot of them were businesses that they had never been to before," Cottrell said. "They're like everybody else. They're immediately attracted to the big-box stores."
Lonna Jackson has worked for seven years as a cashier at Cottrell's pharmacy.
When Cottrell gathered his employees for an announcement, she and some of her co-workers feared the worst: layoffs. Then he announced the bonuses.
"We sat there, mouths opened. Some cried. We were all just in shock," Jackson said.
With her $700, Jackson donated money to a neighbor in need and then bought fabric for her sewing group which makes baby blankets for neonatal units at area hospitals. She plans on spending the rest of the money on car tires.
The money was a big help for Jackson who has been trimming her spending, fearing a layoff or some other recession-related challenge.
"You cut back on everything because you just don't know," she said.
When she got the cash, Jackson thought carefully about where to spend it.
"When you have it in your hand, it makes you think of the smaller stores and businesses that are struggling right now," she said.
And as cashier at the pharmacy, she has seen plenty of those $2 bills circle back to Cottrell's business.
"I just hope there are more people out there like him," she said.
Cottrell isn't alone in thinking that small acts of kindness can make a big difference in peoples' lives.
In the Minneapolis suburbs, a six-physician gynecological practice has started giving free preventive care to any of its existing patients who lost their medical insurance because of layoffs.
"It's not going to kill us to do a little extra work," Dr. K. Anthony Shibley said. "They probably already have enough bill collectors calling them."
The patients can get one free preventive-care visit and a free Pap smear. If they also want tests for sexually transmitted diseases or cholesterol screening, the doctors are offering those services at a reduced rate. The plan resulted from the worries of a few longtime patients who no longer had insurance.
"We have a doctor-patient relationship," Shibley said. "It's not exactly a business-client relationship."
Perhaps the best-known recession angel is Leonard Abess Jr., who was recently singled out by President Obama for his generosity.
After selling his Miami bank in the fall, Abess quietly handed out $60 million in bonuses from his own pocket. The money didn't just go to bank executives but also to tellers, secretaries, clerks and former workers.
Using a formula to weigh years of service and salary, he divvied up the money among the bank's 399 current employees and 72 former ones. Checks ranged from tens of thousands of dollars to more than $100,000.
"My father was a banker," Abess recently told ABC News. "I grew up at the dinner table with tales of the depression and tales of what a banker meant to a community, about responsibility, handling other people's money. And that these are your neighbors, the people you live with, you see all the time and you have to protect their money."