Blain's Farm & Fleet opened its 37th and 38th stores in Elgin and Romeoville last fall, venturing into the Chicago area for the first time.
Founded in Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1955 by brothers Bert and Claude Blain, Farm & Fleet bills itself as a modern general store, selling everything from animal and pet food, to lawn and garden products, automotive supplies, limited clothing for all ages, tools, un-refrigerated grocery items and sporting goods, spokeswoman Dormie Roberts said.
"Many of our customers like to say that if Farm & Fleet doesn't carry it, they don't need it," she quipped.
Farm & Fleet, which is family-owned and not franchised, hearkens back to the general-store days that flourished across the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries in small towns and remote places where a single shop was sufficient to service an entire community.
Today's Farm & Fleet is generally located in suburban fringe communities where they can serve hobby farmers (beekeepers and those with horses and chickens, primarily) as well as suburban homeowners.
"Bert and Claude originally wanted to offer their customers the best products they could for both their farms and fleets (which included both cars and tractors), so that is where they got the name," Roberts said. "And the store's offerings just grew from there."
Late in 1955 the Blains went back to their hometown of Rice Lake, Wisconsin, to open their second store and the following year they ventured into Illinois, opening their third store in Sycamore.
Today there are seven Farm & Fleet stores in northern Illinois -- in Sycamore, Montgomery, Woodstock, Ottawa, Kankakee, Elgin and Romeoville, and 19 in the state. Some have been built from the ground up, while others have gone into former Lowe's and Wal-Mart stores, Roberts said.
"We have never left a community that we have entered," she added.
Farm & Fleet offers the same range and varieties of products at the same prices, whether they are selling it in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, or Cedar Falls, Iowa.
They offer homeowner tools made by DeWalt or Milwaukee, lawn and garden hand and power tools, mowers, tractors, sporting goods, yard games, camping equipment, automotive supplies like tires and batteries, lawn furniture, fencing, ammunition (but no guns), snowblowers, clothing and groceries, to just skim the surface.
"It is worth a field trip to see a Farm & Fleet if you have never visited one," Roberts said. "It is a great store that is very easy to navigate."
Still family-owned, the chain is now run by Bert's daughter, Jane Blain Gilbertson, president and CEO. Her brother, Robert, has recently retired and the third generation has not yet entered the business.
Blain's Farm & Fleet prides itself on becoming involved in each store's local community. Stores always support the closest Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter and each holiday season, customers are asked to buy and donate toys for the "Kids Helping Kids" program. Farm & Fleet then matches each donation up to a total of $200,000 across all 38 stores.
The corporation also supports the American Heart Association each August with the Burt Blain Memorial Heart Walk, held in Janesville. Every store sends a team to the walk and raises money for the event through fun activities in the local stores, Roberts said.
The Elgin store is at 629 S. Randall Road and the Romeoville store is at 450 S. Weber Road. Visit www.farmandfleet.com for more information.