Strawberry Fields for sale
URBANA — The Strawberry Fields natural foods store and cafe is for sale, and its 72-year-old owner hopes a local buyer steps in to keep the 40-year-old business growing.
Paul Dohme suffered a minor stroke earlier this year and decided in the last couple months to offer the store for sale, said Darren Dohme, who has been helping his uncle with his business interests, including Strawberry Fields.
"The focus is to try to market it locally to someone who would buy and own the store and run it themselves," Darren Dohme said. "It's a great little store that does a ton of business, and it needs someone with hands-on management to go in there and make some changes."
Dohme stressed that "at this time, there are no plans on closing the store. Paul's interest is to sell it to someone here in the community who would take a hands-on (approach) in keeping this local icon going."
He added that "there's no deadline" by which the store needs to be sold. The store requires a lot of time, and Paul Dohme is "looking to slow down and divest some of his business interests," Darren Dohme said.
Strawberry Fields got its start in 1974 at 1310 W. Main St., U, close to where the University of Illinois' Beckman Institute now stands. It moved to 202 E. Green St., C, in 1987 and operated there for three years. After closing briefly, the store reopened in 1991 at its current site, 306 W. Springfield Ave., on the west side of downtown Urbana. At first, it occupied only the northern portion of the 9,900-square-foot building, but soon grew to fill the whole thing.
Jack Wallace, the longtime general manager of Strawberry Fields, called the store "a beloved institution" with a faithful following.
"It's a business that shows upside potential," Wallace said. "The marketplace is ready to see a reinvention of Strawberry Fields. We have a very loyal customer base, and I think with certain structural changes, both physical and in the business model, Strawberry Fields has a long ways to go."
One change Darren Dohme said is needed is to target the University of Illinois market and advertise to students.
In recent years, Strawberry Fields faced heightened competition with the move of Common Ground Food Co-op to Lincoln Square in 2008 and its subsequent expansion there.
Darren Dohme and Wallace said Paul Dohme decided this week to disclose news of Strawberry Fields being for sale in order to dispel rumors that the store was closing.
"I think Paul was hesitant to discuss that until the business was actually listed, but the listing is active at this time," Wallace said, adding that he has tried to be forthright with employees and customers about the situation.
Closing the store "was never a consideration," Wallace added. "Paul is cutting back business activities as he has gotten older and is now preparing for retirement."
Darren Dohme said Alex Ruggieri of Sperry Van Ness / Ramshaw Real Estate will handle the listing for the business.
Only the business — and not the property — is being advertised for sale. Wallace said the building is leased from Linda Post and Dean Woodrum, who was the owner of Strawberry Fields before Paul Dohme acquired it in 1996.
In addition to selling natural and organic foods, Strawberry Fields has a vitamin and body care department that occupies about a quarter of the retail space. Strawberry Fields also has a cafe that offers grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, coffee, pastries and catering.
Wallace said retail space takes up about 6,000 of the store's 9,900 square feet, and the remainder is used for the kitchen, bakery, offices and storage.
The store has 41 employees and is supplied by more than 100 vendors, including primary vendor United Natural Foods and secondary vendor Kehe Foods.
Wallace worked at Strawberry Fields from 1978 to 1984 and returned to Champaign-Urbana in 1996 as the store's general manager.