Fruit farm ripe for the picking

Grand Junction institution Alida’s Fruits were hoping to sell, but haven’t found a buyer. The current plan is to close down in about year. The end of an era.

"Farmer" Bob Helmer doesn't seem to be slowing down at all as he runs deliveries of Alida's Fruits jams and salsas around town.

But at 80 years old, Helmer — easily recognized in his trademark overalls, peach-adorned shirt and straw hat — is ready to retire with his wife, Alida, and hopes to sell the business they have built over the past three decades. If they can't find a buyer within a year, the shop will close for good.

"That'll be the end of Alida's Fruits if someone doesn't buy it," Farmer Bob said.

Helmer and his wife have turned their small farmhouse and 25-foot-by-25-foot cooler outside into a Grand Valley institution since moving to the area in 1990. They've had their place for sale for about three years and closed their downtown location last summer. Now, they are in the process of liquidating their inventory. Still hoping for a buyer, both Farmer Bob and Alida — who have been married for 61 years and have three children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren — say they are ready to move on to retirement and whatever that might entail. The Helmers think it will take about a year to get through their inventory.

"For one thing, I'll be 81 years old this summer and it's time to slow down. I've had a lot of fun in my lifetime, but it's time to do some other things," Farmer Bob said. "I need somebody young and ambitious to take over."

Farmer Bob and Alida said they've been close to finalizing a sale multiple times and have even been under contract, only to have things fall apart. As recently as November, it seemed there was a buyer in place, only for that person to walk away.

The whole property is for sale, including the Helmers' home right next to their shop at 3402 C 1/2 Road, but Farmer Bob said he'll only sell the property along with the business. He would, however, sell the business but not the property. If there is no sale, the Helmers plan to stay in the house rather than move, but either way, the plan is to stay in the valley.

"If we have to stay here, that's just fine," Alida said.

The catch-22 so far, Farmer Bob believes, is that the young people who could provide the energy needed to run a business like Alida's Fruits don't have enough money, while the people who can afford it are close to retirement and don't want the extra work.

The property is listed at realtor.com for $395,000 for the real estate. The business is for sale for $215,000 and can be negotiated directly with the Helmers.

If the business does eventually close, it will be the end of an era in the Grand Valley as Farmer Bob and Alida have built up the brand and become recognizable figures in town, especially Farmer Bob — a nickname given to him by teachers and school children on field trips to the farm — in his traditional garb.

"You always know when he is in the house by his wildly colored shirts under his overalls," Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Diane Schwenke said. "More than anyone else, he has been a major spokesperson/icon for the orchards and the fruits they produce."

Since 1990, Farmer Bob has put on seven expansions to the small cooler that he used to help launch the business after previously selling jams for Fire Mountain Fruit. He also started using the internet for sales in the mid-1990s and said the business will run a different special each week until they are out of inventory. The website is alidasfruits.com.

Now, the business has a complete canning line and full kitchen to make jams, salsas and syrups, using locally grown fruits when available. Until recently, the products were sold in Sam's Club stores throughout the state and Farmer Bob would often tour the stores and offer samples. He stopped doing this when his sales representative, Jim Kent, retired.

Kent praised the Helmers for their commitment to customer service.

"They're good, honest people and everyone who does business with them feels right at home," he said.

While the prospect of selling a business sounds stressful, the Helmers don't show it as they are willing to wait and see what happens.

"Whatever happens will be. It always turns out the best," Farmer Bob said. "That's been my theory all of life and I've had things happen where I was real disappointed at the time, and looking back it was a blessing. If it doesn't sell, I'm not worried about it. If it does, great."

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