Red Oaks Furniture owner looks toward graceful exit
Bob Stoll, owner of Red Oaks Home Furnishings, said he is not sure what he will do with the 1850s-era barn that currently houses his business after its September close. | Ronnie Wachter~Sun-Times Media
WHAT: Red Oaks Home Furnishings
WHERE: 340 Old McHenry Road, Long Grove
CLOSING: Likely in September after Labor Day
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
CONTACT: 847-634-3044, www.redoaks.com
Updated: September 3, 2012 1:02PM
LONG GROVE — Bob Stoll plants himself into one of the large, well-cushioned chairs he is trying to sell off, and he sinks in deep. He looks tired, and says he feels relieved these days.
Then he leans forward, elbows on his knees, eyes looking up and around, hands fidgeting. He looks like he is excited about something.
Stoll and his family are at a crossroads: The business they have operated for 21 years will close its doors, hopefully next month, he said, but the 58-year-old has ideas for what may come next.
“We’ve been investing our personal resources to keep the business going, and there’s always that question of how much is too much,” Stoll said Tuesday. “We hit that point, where there is no reason to continue.”
Stoll’s business, Red Oaks Home Furnishings, opened in Long Grove in the early 1950s, and for decades not only occupied an 1850s-era barn but produced expanding retail sales. Much of Long Grove’s tourist-heavy business climate changed on Sept. 11, 2001, though, and Stoll acknowledged that Red Oaks, like much of Long Grove, has not adjusted to the online and on-foot shopping trends of the 21st Century.
“Financially, it’s been good to me,” but Stoll said the time had come to move on. “The last eight years have been difficult here. The world changed, and Long Grove didn’t.”
Red Oaks was created in a world of about 60 years ago, when Bob and Ruth McNitt opened a mail-order home accessory store inside the station where they pumped gasoline, on the northwest corner of Old McHenry and Robert Parker Coffin roads. The station burned down in the early 1960s, though, and the Village Tavern restaurant invited the McNitts’ operation into their basement for a few years. Bob McNitt soon bought the Herscheberger family farm, 340 Old McHenry Road, and moved Red Oaks into the open space of the then-110-year-old barn.
He filled that space up with a new option for his business: furniture. The suburbs’ populations were exploding, and young wives wanted nice couches, tables and love seats for their new homes.
In 1968, McNitt hired a Stevenson High School student named Stoll as a stocker. Stoll quickly became a construction worker, too: Red Oaks was bursting out of the barn and adding new, freestanding structures right behind it…then building connections between those structures to create a single building with almost 9,000 square feet of showplace on the first floor.
Going from stock boy to builder was a compliment from McNitt, Stoll recalled.
“That was the top of the pecking order,” he said. “If you were working on the buildings, you weren’t doing the grunt stuff.”
He spent a few years of part-time studies at Harper College and the College of Lake County, but Stoll said he liked the potential he had at Red Oaks.
“That’s part of why I stayed, was the summer building projects,” he said. “It was a lot of fun to be a part of that.”
But McNitt died in 1986, and Stoll was the succession plan — by 1991, he owned Red Oaks. Today, with wife Sarah as co-owner and their daughter, Lesley Dinelli, as store manager, the Stolls enjoyed years of success.
“The exciting part of it was that it was growing,” he said. “I like being independent. I’ve always wanted to own my own business.”
And his business was one-of-a-kind, in ways that today may be detrimental.
“This building is obviously tailored and suited fit our needs,” he said. “It would be difficult for another business to come in here and open up without doing some modification to tailor it to their use.”
With the terrorist attacks crippling the travel industry and the recession of 2008 crippling basically everything else, “Consumers aren’t spending money on furniture, and they’re not spending money on good furniture,” Stoll said.
They made up their minds earlier this year to start hanging their bright, colorful going-out-of-business signs.
“It was always in the back of our minds,” and Stoll said that when he and Sarah decided to close their doors, they mostly felt “relieved.”
But what will come next…and how will they get there?
“We’ve been trying to sell the market all along, but the market is bad,” he said. “I have a love-hate relationship with this building.”
The idea for the future, he said, is in home accessories: artwork, lamps, mirrors, nightstands and unusual items. Things one might buy on a whim, not the investment of furniture.
By eliminating the couches and bookcases, Stoll said he can eliminate the need for a large floor space.
“With space comes insurance, and overhead,” he said.
His next floor space might still be in Long Grove, he said…but “We’re going to look at all our options.”
He leans forward in the large chair he had sunken into. His next idea, if it materializes, has no name and no certain plan yet, but Stoll said he will soon want to get busy with building something new.
“I have difficulty sitting still.”