Big R, which operates 22 stores in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, plans to open its first Wisconsin store later this year in the former Kmart building in the Fox River Plaza shopping center. (Submitted photo)

Retailer will open in vacant Kmart building

By Ed Nadolski

Editor in Chief

Big R Stores will make a debut in Wisconsin this year by filling Burlington’s most prominent retail vacancy – the former Kmart store in the Fox River Plaza Shopping Center.

The family owned retailer, similar to Blain’s Farm and Fleet, has set an ambitious opening date of Nov. 1, according to owner Joda Crabtree.

The store will initially create about 65 jobs, including a few management positions, he said.

Big R is a growing group of stores based in Watseka, Ill., that sells a diverse inventory ranging from Levi’s jeans to chicken feed, according to Crabtree. The company currently has 22 stores in central Illinois, northern Indiana and northwest Ohio.

“We’re a mixed use retailer that’s a hybrid offering elements of Walmart, Menards, Tractor Supply and Blain’s (Farm and Fleet),” Crabtree said.

The first three of those stores are within two miles of the Big R’s proposed location ­– a fact that doesn’t faze Crabtree.

“We do very well in those markets,” he said, adding that Big R has purchased about eight former Walmart buildings for its stores. “We seem to complement each other well.”

Big R has also set up in three former Kmart stores, as it plans to do in Burlington.

Crabtree said Big R is able to compete with the major retailers on prices. “We’ve got a very strong price point on the items people use and purchase frequently,” he said. “We’re very cognizant of the market.”


Mayor is thrilled

The announcement of the deal, which was finalized Friday, was praised by Mayor Jeannie Hefty as a major step in “turning the lights back on in Burlington.”

She credited Joe Devorkin, who has owned the shopping center since late September, with generating the interest that will revive the mostly vacant strip.

“He is a straight shooter and has been waiting to make a difference here,” she said.

Devorkin said his specialty is purchasing distressed shopping centers in “quality communities” and returning them to prosperity.

“For the shopping center and the community, what Big R brings cannot be overestimated,” Devorkin said. “It’s an ideal fit for our center – something that was missing from the community.”

The Fox River Plaza took a hit when Walmart and Menards opened in the mid-2000s. Pick n’ Save moved out a short time later and the shopping center was left reeling by the recession that began in 2008.

Kmart closed in 2011, leaving the remaining retailers struggling to survive.

            For the full story – and a sidebar on how Big R’s owner selected Burlington – pick up Thursday’s print edition of the Burlington Standard Press.