Big R now is getting bigger

March 10, 2018 GMT

Jerry Gibbs could use 2018 as a year to catch his breath.

He probably won’t.

The owner of the Watseka-based business who operates the ever-expanding Big R store chain will most certainly keep moving ahead.

For those of you that don’t know, Big R is a retail outlet similar to a store such as Blain’s Farm & Fleet. The company now operates 23 locations in the Midwest, adding four locations in 2017.

The company’s newest addition also is its first store in Wisconsin. The Burlington, Wis., store, in the southeastern portion of the state, was opened in September 2017. Similar to many Big R’s, the store is a former Kmart location. This store is one of the company’s largest at 85,000 square feet.

Burlington is about 25 miles west of Kenosha, Wis.

The company also added its second location is Ohio. This store is in Findlay, Ohio. The first Ohio store, is in Lima.

The two other stores opened in 2017 were one in Elkhart, Ind., the company’s second store in the Greater Elkhart area, Gibbs noted, and a 55,000-square-foot store in nearby Streator. Elkhart is about 15 miles east of South Bend.

The company now has locations in four states: Illinois (12 stores), Indiana (8), Wisconsin (1) and Ohio (2).

How far the company’s reach might ultimately become is a question Gibbs can’t answer just yet. He did say that he would like to have his stores within a five-hour radius of the company’s Watseka warehouse operation.

“We don’t want to stray too far,” he said.

Gibbs likely won’t rest with the 23 locations. He said unfortunately for others, but fortunately for him, there are plenty of vacant stores scattered throughout the Midwest. That fact means there are ample growth opportunities.

“I’m looking at a couple other locations. Big box stores that are vacant. That is our business model,” he said.

The company employs just more than 1,000.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” he said.

The store was started in 1964. Illinois locations include Watseka, Gibson City, Danville, Tilton, Pontiac, Morris, Pekin, Washington, Rochelle, Homer Glen, Streator and McHenry.

• • •

Lindy Casey is the newest employee with the village of Bourbonnais, and the 32-year-old will be the first-ever marketing and public engagement manager for the village.

The $55,000 position was created to have a person dedicated to making the village better known, but also to help develop special events and programs within the village. Casey also will work closely with organizations such as the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce and the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Casey’s first day was Feb. 20.

A 2004 graduate of Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School and a 2012 communication graduate of Governors State University, Casey said there is some pressure with being the first.

“I know the spotlight is on me. I plan to rise up. I’m up for the challenge,” she said.

Casey said part of her focus will be getting existing residents and businesses more engaged. To get that accomplished, she said, getting the information out to the public will be a key part of her task.

She also noted there is a large marketing job to be continued to bring development at the soon-to-be-opened Bourbonnais Parkway along Interstate 57. She also noted the Chicago Bears’ summer camp also brings considerable attention.

“We want to put Bourbonnais on the map, and I want to be part of that,” she said.

Lindy’s husband, Brandon, is a 2000 BBCHS grad. The couple has a 4-year-old daughter.

• • •

Wes Hassen is the new plant manager at BASF in Kankakee. The 56-year-old Wisconsin native replaces Judy Brinkman, who was moved to her native state where she will be the site manager for the company’s Beaumont, Texas plant.

Hassen has been the site manager for BASF’s plan in Geismar, La., one of the company’s largest facilities.

The chemical manufacturing plant employs 170.

He has a chemistry degree from Rhodes College in Tennessee and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Alabama.

Brinkman had been the Kankakee plant manager for about four years.

BASF has been in Kankakee since 2010. The south Kankakee plant previously was known at Cognis.

Hassen has worked with Ciba-Geigy Chemical Corp. and BASF for 30 years. Ciba-Geigy was a New Jersey-based company, which manufactured dyes, pigments, resins and epoxy products. The company was purchased by BASF in March 2010.

He had worked across the globe and in addition to Louisiana has worked in North Carolina, England and Switzerland.