Blain’s Farm & Fleet brings family history to Rhinelander
Store construction adds to area growth
By Eileen Persike
RHINELANDER – Breaking ground for a new store is like preparing to welcome a new family for Jane Blain Gilbertson. She is the owner, president and CEO of Blain’s Farm and Fleet, a company started by her father and uncle in the 1950s.
“That’s how we look at it,” Blain Gilbertson said. “We talk about the new family that’s joining the bigger family, and people really feel that way.”
The groundbreaking signals the start of the 45th Blain’s Farm & Fleet store and adding more family members to the current 5,400 employees. For Rhinelander community leaders, the ground breaking is seen as a catalyst for more economic development.
“There’s a lot of development and ground moving and future projects slated and we’re just really excited to see this project really get the ball rolling,” said Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lauren Sackett. “It’s really important to the quality of life of our community, our future residents and it’s really important to our economy and job growth and we’re just really excited to see a development of this size in our community.”
Plans for construction of two hotels and an international coffee franchise and remodeling of the Rhinelander Walmart store are new ventures, added to the opening of L&M Fleet Supply last spring that are signs of the area’s growth.
Blain Gilbertson said Rhinelander has been tossed around as a store location for years, and began seriously looking in city and spending time in the community.
“We do studies, we have data, but then you get to that place and you think is this a place we can add value, are they the kind of people we would want to hire and are looking for the kinds of things we have,” Blain Gilbertson said. “That’s the subjective and emotional part and right off the bat, this feels right. We had to find the right site and the right timing. But being here was an easy decision.”
The land has been cleared for months and footings can be seen, walls will be up soon for the 85,000 square foot store that Blain Gilbertson calls a “modern general store.” It will feature brand-name clothing, tools, shoes, housewares, an auto service area, a drive through to pick up pre-ordered items, among other things –and pets will be welcome. A three-day grand opening will take place in spring 2023.
“It’s fun to see growth, just not for the sake of growth, but in the right place, in the right way without a lot of debt or very little debt,” Blain Gilbertson said to the assembled crowd prior to the ground breaking. “We own everything that we have. We own the property, the buildings and equipment,” she added, with apologies to any bankers within earshot. Basics, she said, that were learned back in the day and still work.
Blain Gilbertson said her daughters, the third generation of the Blain family, are “very much committed” to keeping the business family owned. Though she wants them to make the choice about becoming more involved with the business in the future, Blain Gilbertson wants to make sure they have the passion needed to take on a bigger role.
“They understand the culture, the values, the people. I want to make sure they protect that,” Blain Gilbertson said, adding, “I love they are committed to keeping it in the family.”