This week’s stop in our video series on local businesses with stories to tell: Champaign-based Herriott’s, a key player in today’s tailgating scene at the University of Illinois.
Tents outside Memorial Stadium have come a long way since the Tailgreat days. They’re bigger, sleeker and — most important on chilly days like this — come equipped with heaters.
“That’s appreciated by everyone,” said Herriott’s general manger Deb Stumph, whose grandfather, Merle, started the business in 1951. “It’s good to be out of the cold.”
Much of the warm and toasty crowd at today’s Rutgers game can thank Herriott’s, which has been covering football parties longer than any local outfit. The client list ranges from alumni groups to sororities to community heavyweights like News-Gazette Media (the 70-by-60-foot WDWS tent in Grange Grove is Herriott’s biggest, requiring five employees and four hours to assemble).
Tailgating took off in the 1980s as the Illini soared under Mike White, with orange-and-blue pole tents stuffing Lot 31.
“It was nuts,” Deb said.
That came as a pleasant surprise to Merle, who passed away in 1985. When he opened the business — known as Herriott’s Cities Service Station at the corner of Bradley and Market in Champaign — erecting huge tents outside football games wasn’t in the plans.
“Never in a million years did he think it’d turn out this way,” Deb said. “His whole intent was just to support his family, not a bunch of families like we do now.”