Modern day general store found in suburbs

 
By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 5/22/2018 12:39 PM
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  • A Farm and Fleet employee helps a customer at one of the chain's 41 stores.

    A Farm and Fleet employee helps a customer at one of the chain's 41 stores. Courtesy of Blain's Farm and Fleet

  • Blain's Farm and Fleet opened in Elgin and moved into the Chicago suburbs in 2016.

    Blain's Farm and Fleet opened in Elgin and moved into the Chicago suburbs in 2016. Courtesy of Blain's Farm and Fleet

Blain's Farm and Fleet now boasts 19 of its 38 stores in the northern third of Illinois, in places like Sycamore, Montgomery, Woodstock, Ottawa and Kankakee. It ventured into suburban Chicago for the first time in late 2016 when it opened stores in Elgin and Romeoville, and will open three more stores in Michigan.

Founded in Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1955 by brothers Bert and Claude Blain, Farm and 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, said Dormie Roberts, spokesperson.

"Selected stores like those in Ottawa, Decatur and Moline also feature outdoor garden centers that offer perennial and annual bedding plants, herbs, vegetables and hanging baskets," she said.

"Many of our customers like to say that if Farm and Fleet doesn't carry it, they don't need it," Roberts quipped.

Farm and Fleet, which is family-owned and not franchised, hearkens back to the general stores that flourished across the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries in many remote places where a single shop was sufficient to serve an entire community.

Today's Farm and 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.

"We have never left a community that we have entered," Roberts said.

Farm and Fleet offers the same range and varieties of products at the same prices, whether it is selling them in Cedar Falls, Iowa, or now in Traverse City, Michigan.

The store offers homeowner tools made by DeWalt or Milwaukee, lawn and garden hand tools, power tools, mowers, tractors, fertilizers and grass seed, sporting goods, yard games, camping equipment, automotive supplies like tires and batteries, decorative pergolas, limited lawn furniture like Adirondack chairs and portable bag chairs, fencing, ammunition (but no guns), snowblowers, clothing and groceries, to just skim the surface.

"It is worth a field trip to see a Farm and Fleet if you have never visited one," Roberts said. "It is a great store that is very easy to navigate."

Still family-owned, it is currently run by Bert's daughter, Jane Blain Gilbertson, president and CEO. Her brother, Robert, retired a few years ago and the third generation has not yet entered the business.

Blain's Farm and Fleet prides itself on becoming involved in each store's local community. It always supports the closest National FFA Organization chapter and each holiday season, it asks customers to buy and donate toys for its Kids Helping Kids program. Farm and Fleet then matches each donation up to a total of $200,000 across all 41 stores.

The corporation also supports the American Heart Association each August with the Bert Blain Memorial Heart Walk, held in Janesville. Every store sends a team to the walk and raises money toward the walk through fun activities in the local stores, Roberts said. Over the 26 years it has participated, Farm & Fleet has raised $4.5 million for the association, she said.

The Elgin store is located at 629 S. Randall Road and the Romeoville store is at 450 S. Weber Road. Visit www.farmandfleet.com for more information.

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