Jerry Gibbs no longer is in the retail business.

The Watseka businessman who helped transform Big R from a small Illinois-based farm and general merchandise retail outlet into a thriving and growing Midwest business confirmed Monday he has sold his majority share of the business.

Gibbs owned 23 Big R stores in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. The company’s corporate office and warehouse also are located in Watseka.

Big R employs slightly more than 1,100.

Gibbs stated he sold his stake of Big R to Matt Whebbe, 39, of St. Paul, Minn., and Joda Crabtree, who is a son of the store’s founders, Bill and Pat Crabtree. Joda will remain a part-owner of Big R.

Terms of the Aug. 17 sale were undisclosed.

The new ownership is readying plans to add a third store in Ohio and four to six locations within the next two years in Michigan. Currently, Big R does not currently have stores in Michigan.

“I believe there are a lot of fun things we can do, and there are some additions we can make here (Watseka),” Whebbe said. He said he loves what he has seen in Watseka.


“The company has built a great platform,” he said. He acknowledged he’s going to have to work to win over staff and customers because Gibbs was so popular and connected.

“It will be one person at a time. I know change is hard. I’ve told employees already: Don’t hear my words. Watch my actions.”

The 71-year-old Gibbs, a native of Tennessee, said he had been looking to “slow down” his role in the business, but he was having trouble doing so. He described himself as semi-retired the past couple years, but found himself remaining very involved.

“I decided I was going to go all in or all out,” he said.

He had some general talks with Whebbe during the past three years, and those talks turned serious this past winter and spring.

They came to terms and signed documents about two weeks ago. Gibbs informed his employees shortly after the deal was signed.

He said all employees will remain and the store will maintain the Big R name.



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