Changing times eventually force a Lansing icon to close
By Marlene Cook
LANSING, Ill. (February 21, 2023) – Beneath the TF South High School building at 186th Street and Burnahm Avenue lie the roots of the Riemer Van Til farm that helped to feed many earlier Lansingites. In the 1930s, local folks bought fresh produce from Riemer’s Farm Stand on the corner of Oak Street and Ridge Road (3033 Ridge Road). Riemer and his wife Lucy reared seven children who not only worked in the farm fields with a horse-drawn plow, but took turns manning the outdoor stand.
Van Til’s Fruit Market
The original stand was open only during the summer months, but as business grew the stand was rebuilt as a cement block building that was able to be open all year. It was named Van Til’s Fruit Market. Riemer retired in 1956 and died in February 1965. His son Arnold (Arnie) continued to run the business. In 1969, Arnold’s mother Lucy signed a warranty deed for the property identified as the “Winterhoff and Schultz’s Addition to Lansing” to Arnie and his wife Ruth for the sum of $10.
In the early 1970s, Van Til applied for and received a demolition permit from the Lansing Building Department to remove the residence located behind the store. He also received a building permit to construct the store. That building permit was secured through the administrative office (i.e. mayor), and no hearing was conducted before the Zoning Board of Appeals or the Planning Commission.
In the mid-1980s when Arnie turned 64, he decided on semi-retirement. His daughter Linda and her husband Ken Schoon took over the business. Like her dad, Linda had dreams of expansion. Linda said, “We want to have a full-service garden center, evergreens, trees, and a large variety of products to offer convenient shopping. But our firm commitment will always be to give our customers fresh produce.”
Arnie went before the Planning and Zoning Board to request a zoning change. He wanted to change the nonconforming status to a service business zone for the business and include the property to the west, which was zoned residential. His plan was to rent the house on that property until the business would expand into a garden center, at which time the house would be torn down. But a small glitch sidetracked his expansion plans.
The store had a “non-conforming” status because the store pre-dated the 1961 zoning ordinance and was grandfathered. If his request were granted, he would have to comply with the new zoning standards, and it would be extremely costly. After much deliberation, the board concluded the action would be “spot zoning” and invalid. The request was denied and the property retained its “nonconforming residential” status.
Village Farm Stand
With their expansion dreams squelched the Van Til family granted a five-year lease to Ron Eriks and his partner Bert Witvoet for the Van Til Market in the late 1980s. Eriks renamed it the Village Farm Stand to match the businesses they owned in Dolton and Calumet City. When they saw the necessity for improvements, they obtained a letter of permission from owner Van Til to upgrade the store. Eriks then made his request at a public hearing on November 2, 1988, for a variance for improvements without increasing square footage. The improvements would include a new roof on the rear of the building, rebuilding coolers, and enclosing the south side of the structure with garage doors to keep equipment from freezing. Building Commissioner James Peterson remarked, “Any improvement would be welcomed.” After commending Eriks for making the improvements and for his positive attitude in accepting the Village’s building regulations, the board unanimously granted the variance and the improvements were underway.
Jansma’s Farm Stand
By 1991 Arnie decided to sell the business. When Dave Jansma and Dean Peters heard about that, they jumped at the chance. Dave and Dean had known each other since they were infants and had been talking about going into business together for some time. The bond got stronger when Dave married Dean’s sister Denise and they became brothers-in-law.
Dean had been working at the produce market in Chicago (formerly South Water Street Market), and Dave had spent most of his life on his father’s farm. It was a perfect fit. They and their wives, Denise and Sharon, added more flowers and a variety of high quality produce. They hired Tim Freeberg to be the in-store person, and he became the well-known “always there” personality for the next 10 years. They also provided him a place to live by renting him the house next door to the stand.
Jansma and Peters bought most of their produce from local farmers, but when many of the farmers began selling their farms to developers, “local products” became more scarce. As a result, more and more of their inventory came from the Chicago International Produce Market.
Jansma’s reaches 25 years
A 25th year celebration took place in November 2015. The Times did an article about the business, and Jansma was quoted as saying, “I like that I get to meet a lot of people and talk with customers, and being your own boss has its benefits. It’s a family-run business, and it’s a nice way to do business.”
The business continued for several more years, but the competition of the full-service “one-stop shopping” stores kept growing. Regular customers were moving away, and the little farm stand struggled to compete with larger chains like Home Depot and Walmart. When the Jansma and Peters families began weighing options, they felt their only option was to close the little stand with the long history.
Jansma was quoted in a previous Lansing Journal story about the closing: “God has another plan for us. It’s time to move on. Thanks for all the years you’ve given us support. But it’s time to move on.”
- Jansma’s succumbs to taxes, competition (December 21, 2018)
- Jansma’s Farm Stand thanks Lansing for nearly 30 good years (December 22, 2018)