As a hyper local magazine, it is important to us that you take advantage of all that our community has to offer in terms of shopping options and experiences. In other words, we tend to be a bit bossy about it. But, real talk: Don’t you want to be conscientious about where you are spending your money? Don’t you want to invest dollars into the place where you live, work, and play? Yes, there are going to be items on your list that necessitate a trip to Target or that you must “Buy Now” on Amazon. (I want to hate and never use Amazon. I really do. But dammit it’s so easy and Prime shipping and they just recommended a Bob Ross painting set that is very very tempting. I’m trying here people but I am an imperfect human.)

Each year I try to inch my way toward completing more and more of my gift buying at locally-owned businesses. Here are some suggestions, laid out in a handy dandy list. And of course, because of the aforementioned imperfect human-ness, I cannot list every possible shopping option. But you, dear readers, are very smart folks who I know will do your homework and ultimately find what you need. 

Photo from Eastern Illinois Foodbank Facebook page

Donate, donate, donate

Here’s the thing. If I had a lot of money I would place a big bet on the fact that most, if not all, of the people on your shopping list don’t really truly need anything. There are, however, many in this community who need lots of things, and we have a wide range of organizations that tirelessly work to address those needs, or are generally invested in making this community a better place. It’s hard to break ourselves of the ingrained cultural experience of giving and getting stuff. Like really hard. But maybe start to have some discussions with small circles of family and friends. Do you and your siblings need to exchange physical items every year? Probably not. Surely there is a cause they care about that you can donate to in their name. Here are some I think are pretty great:

Courage Connection, Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County, Champaign County Humane Society, The UP Center, Planned Parenthood of Illinois, Eastern Illinois Foodbank, Dreaam House, Jubilee Cafe, WILL, The Refugee Center, Champaign County Forest Preserve District, 40 North

Give experiences

Give something your loved will receive personal enjoyment from, without adding to the circulation of stuff out in the world. If you are a regular reader of Smile Politely, it should be no surprise that though we live in a place that is not necessarily a big city by any means, it has quite a lot to offer in terms of experiential things, whether you’re looking for the arts, music, sports, dining, or other outings. Indulge your loved one by helping them do more of a thing they already like, or encourage them to break out a bit and try something new. 

Photo from Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Facebook page

A gift card for or tickets to a performance: Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, The Virginia Theatre, Station Theatre, Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts

Photo by Jessica Hammie

A dining and/or drinking experience: Naya/Miga/Sakanaya, Farren’s, Triptych, Pour Bros., Maize, The Bread Company, Nando Milano, Papa Del’s, Black Dog, Kohinoor, Watson's, Everyday Kitchen, Cafe Kopi, Seven Saints, Crane Alley, Timpones, Neil Street Blues...I could go on forever here but you get the picture. We have a lot of eating and drinking places to choose from. 

Photo by Anna Longworth

Other stuff: a game at Champaign-Urbana Adventures in Time and Space, a class or a pass for Champaign Park District or Urbana Park District or Urbana Boulders, a stay at Allerton Park and Retreat Center, a membership to Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, some Illini Basketball tickets (maybe they’ll be good this year??), maybe an evening of bowling and pizza at Old Orchard

Embrace buying used

Okay, so you want to buy some actual stuff that a person can unwrap and hold in their hands and use on a regular basis. I feel you. I still like to get stuff, as much as I don’t want to admit it. However, maybe consider going the reuse and recycle route rather than buying brand new. And no, I don’t mean regifting the weird perfume/body lotion/loofah gift set that you got last year. We actually have some great options around town for getting good quality clothes or house decor or vintage items that have already been owned by someone else. Plus, you're helping the planet and all that. Sure, you may have to dig a little, but you never know what treasures you’ll find. 

Photo from Crossroads Corner Consignment Facebook page

Dandelion, Exile on Main, ReStore, The Idea Store, Jane Addams, Orphans Treasure Box, Record Swap, Crossroads Corner Consignment, Furniture Lounge

Support local artists and artisans

Our Arts Editor Debra published a wonderful guide to accomplishing this. In it she says: 

“One added bonus of buying local art is that you can meet the artists, learn more about them and their work. This will help you sound so smart when said gift is opened and conversation about it is sparked. Imagine a holiday eve spent appreciating and responding to art. Oh the wonder. But you can actually make this happen. And if that local artist is active on social media, you can connect your giftee with said artist. The possibilities are endless.  

I'll share a little secret with you. Artists, even those who occasionally make work that is NSF (not for sale), want to see work find a loving home. They want to know hear how it has settled in. They want to know that it continues to thrive and inspire. And here in Chambana, where we have a growing and vibrant art scene, we're small enough that meeting local artists is a possible.”

Photo from Japan House Facebook page

Please go read her guide and find out about the multitude of opportunities ahead where artists are showcasing and selling their creations. 

Be uniquely Chambana

Know someone who just loves this community? Or maybe they’ve moved away and could use a little bit of home? There are a few good places ‘round town to score some townie goods, t-shirts, and mugs and such.

Champaign Outdoors:

Photo by Julie McClure

Chambanaproud.com (you can read more about that here):

Image from Champaign County EDC Facebook page

 Illini Union Bookstore:

Photo from Illini Union Bookstore Facebook page

Art Mart

Photo by Julie McClure

Don’t be afraid to get weird with it

One of the perks of shopping local businesses is finding items that are truly unique, or even odd. This is an endeavor that may take you a bit longer, require a bit of browsing. But it’s worth the reaction you’ll get out of the gift recipient. I’ve already done a bit of scouting, and here are some things that I’ve found.

Art Coop: Photo by Julie McClure

The Idea Store: Photo by Julie McClure

International Galleries: Photo by Julie McClure

Art Mart: Photo by Julie McClure

Seek out minority owned businesses

As you follow each of the suggestions laid out above, don’t forget to have some intentionality about who you are supporting. Specifically, be sure to seek out businesses that are owned by folks other than straight, white men. We’ve already mentioned some of them: Dandelion, Neil Street Blues, Art Coop, Maize, to name a few. Using your dollars in establishments that are black-owned/woman-owned/immigrant-owned/queer-owned not only ensure that we we remain a community committed to cultural diversity, but it also addresses in a small way the wealth gaps often experienced by those groups. It’s not systemic change, but it’s a step.

Photo from Buy Black Chambana website

Buy Black Chambana launched this year as a resource for finding black businesses, and CUltivate Central Illinois has a directory of woman-owned businesses; those are good places to start. 

One last thing…

Shopping local can go beyond just gift giving this season. Patronize all of those locally owned restaurants (and tip well). Offer your out of town guests coffee from Columbia Street Roastery or Page Roasting. Create a table arrangement or host gift with some lovely Fleurish flowers or a unique plant from Plant Mode. Preorder a locally made Delight Flower Farm wreath from Common Ground.

 Photo by Julie McClure

Most importantly, remember to be kind to those you interact with as you check items off your gift-buying list. We are all busy and stressed, and there's no need to think you're more important than that person behind the counter. 

Happy holidays, and happy shopping!

Top photo by Julie McClure