By ROSS BROWN
Rantoul Press correspondent
FISHER — Fisher’s downtown grocery store isn’t going anywhere, though it is on the market.
After almost 90 years as a family-owned business at the corner of Third and Front streets, Ingold’s Grocery has been put up for sale through a broker. With it will go three generations of continuous ownership under the Ingold family.
"The grocery business is seven days a week, nights and holidays," owner Steve Ingold said, "so we’re getting a little older and getting a little burnt-out. We’d like to turn it over to someone younger who has a bit more energy that can make a decent living, work hard and be their own boss."
Opened in 1926 by brothers-in-law Harve Ingold and Jesse Heiser, the store was known as "Heiser and Ingold" until 1983, when Steve Ingold and his wife, Belinda, bought Heiser’s share. Harve Ingold’s son Dale and his wife, Roberta, operated the business for decades. Since 2001 it has also been owned by Steve’s sister Diana Wilkinson and her husband, David.
When the business began, almost every small community in the area had a small grocery store. Today, Ingold’s withstands competition from neighboring communities and the big-box stores in Champaign.
Steve Ingold said the community’s desire for a local grocer is a focal point.
"I think the town’s our biggest supporter," he said. "People want to go to the store in-town here."
Perhaps the best-known aspect of the business is its meat department, which is located in the back of the store, where David Wilkinson cuts meat fresh each day. The meat is used by restaurants and business from around the area.
"Meat’s our biggest draw," Ingold said. "A lot of people come from Gibson City, Rantoul, Mahomet, Bellflower, Saybrook and even Champaign. Dave cuts it nice and fresh. The golf course in Gibson gets their meat from us."
Two years ago, the business faced new competition from within the community as Dollar General opened a location just west of the high school on U.S. 136. Despite that, Ingold said the business has kept going.
"When they built the Dollar General here, it hurt us a little bit," he said. "Our sales are still OK. If someone wants it they can earn a living and work hard. Our business is still real strong."
He said the decision to sell the family business was made two months ago after much consideration. The store lost money with Central Grocers Cooperative, its main supplier, when the Joliet-based company filed for bankruptcy last year.
Customers won’t notice any physical signs that the business is for sale since it is being negotiated anonymously through a long-distance broker.
"When the broker lists it, he doesn’t put the name of the town on it or anything," Ingold said.
Ingold said the broker has received a number of offers, but is not negotiating a deal at this point.
"The broker seems to think we will close on an offer," he said. "We’ve got a reasonable price. Our broker is very experienced and has done this a long time."
Fisher Mayor Mike Bayler said the store has been "a huge cornerstone for this town for a long time," and he hopes a sale can happen.
"I know it’s tougher for stores in small towns to exist," Bayler said, noting the "big box stores" put a squeeze on them.
"I really hope (the sale) happens."
Over the years, numerous employees have been a part of the legacy that the family has had on the Fisher community, and Ingold said it is neat to see where they have ended up.
"We’ve been here a long time," he said. "Lots of great people, being the third or fourth generation for some people. It’s really neat to see all the kids that have worked here. There’s been lots and lots of kids, and to see them come back and how successful they’ve been, that’s been really cool to see."
Should the business sell, Ingold, 64, said he wants to enjoy his time without the stress of running the store.
"I’m not sure what I’ll do," he said. "I might find something to do for a little bit that’s not as stressful, work less hours and spend time with my kids and grandkids."