Smile Politely

Guide to shopping local: Holidays 2017

Ahhh, the holidays. Are the visions of sugar plums dancing in your head, or is the stress of the season slowly seeping into your consciousness? For me, shopping for gifts can be one of the most stressful components of this time of year, and I LOVE shopping. We would like to ease some of the burden of coming up with the perfect gift for your spouse, grandmother, best friend, or weird uncle, and while we’re at it we’ll highlight some of the amazingness C-U has to offer.

So why shop local? First of all, I ran two errands up there in North Prospect-land last weekend and I’m already over it. Crowds, traffic, people… and it’s not even prime shopping time yet. Our downtown areas offer a lovely setting to browse through stores, chat it up with local business owners and employees, and have a plethora of sustenance options when you need to recharge. And of course there are outliers all over the community that are worth the drive across town. Beyond avoiding the consumer craziness, throwing your love and your dollars towards locally owned establishments strengthens our local economy and allows you to spread a little C-U to your friends and family.

Here’s the scoop on where to find some quality gifts for everyone on your list. — Julie McClure


So many options for this around these parts. My go-to for family members has long been Columbia Street Roastery. They really do a great job of putting together gift combos with individually sized seasonal coffees, and they also have the accessories one might need to make/serve/drink the coffee. For the tea drinkers in your life, check out Walnut Street Tea Company. The tea choices are overwhelming, and it’s awfully hard to resist the gorgeous little teapots displayed everywhere. C-U is also home to some lovely coffee establishments if you want to pick up some gift certificates. Check out Cafe KopiPekaraAroma, Espresso, Pekara, Flying Machine and Flying Machine Avionics, its second location. (JM)

Inside Avionics, is Page Roasting Company, Champaign’s second roaster to open up shop, and thus far, the reviews are pretty stellar. Check out this packaging: 

This is at Common Ground Food Co-op. So, that’s something you can buy there now. Pretty rad. (SF)

Photo above by Sam Logan. Photo below from Page Roasting Company Instagram. 


Thankfully, here in Champaign County (and just beyond) we are pretty spoiled with local brewery options — this way, you can truly spend some dough locally and take home some of your favorite brews for at-home usage. Triptych Brewing not only has plenty of growlers and cans to package up and give to a friend or loved one to keep them warm during the chilled Central Illinois weather, but they also have some merchandise (shirts and glasses) to go with it. 

Just look at that beautiful Porter pour up there (and those glasses will get any beer lover excited).

And we don’t have to exclude wine or liquor drinkers here — you can buy bottles of wine at bacaro, go to Nando Milano and split a bottle for fun, purchase a gift card to spend on whiskey at Seven Saints, and so many others.

Some other options for beer lovers: Riggs Brewing, Barrelhouse 34, Blind Pig, JT Walker’s, and plenty of others. (PS)

One of the best gifts I ever got was from my sister, who has bartended for the past 15 years, from The Iron Post to Buvons in Urbana, to The Spotted Pig in NYC and now out to LA at the soon-to-be-open Hearth and Hound. She’s masterful at the craft, and figured one of the best gifts she can offer people are the ingredients to make a particular cocktail, along with specific instructions on how to do just that. 

She literally bought me everything here. Everything. Put it in a bag, and it was revelatory.

The best thing I can say about buying liquor locally is that most joints are fairly local, like B’s Spirits on Main St. in Urbana, or Piccadilly on Prospect Ave., even under different ownership. For something like the cocktail above, you might need to hit Binny’s or Friar Tuck’s, but hey, that’s OK. Shop local whenever possible, but don’t dismantle your ability to pour your friend or loved one a drink the right way. (SF)

Photo from Triptych’s Facebook page. Photo from Seth’s Instagram page. 


Take one look at the Food and Drink section, and it becomes quite obvious that there are a plethora of choices when it comes to food in C-U. For those friends and family who are local, why not give them a night out with a gift certificate to one of the fine establishments we have here. It’s also a passive-aggressive kind of way to get those “non-foodie I’ll just stick with what I know which is a chain restaurant you can literally find in every town” people to branch out and try something new. There are way too many to list, but Maize, Farren’s, Watson’s Shack and Rail, Black Dog Smoke and Ale House, Seven Saints, bacaro, MIGA, SakanayaPapa Del’s, Silvercreek, KohinoorThe Bread Company, Sitara, and Courier Cafe should get you started. And now I’m hungry. (JM)

Julie is right about restaurants, for sure — but listen — another way to make it count this year by spending locally at these restaurants is because of the people that populate the kitchens and dining rooms as employees throughout the holiday. They work hard to take care of you while you’re visiting, so not only does spending money to eat the food count, but your tip money goes towards these folks too. (PS)

Above photo by Anna Longworth.

One year, my wife’s former employer sent her a basket from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor for a holiday gift. If you can imagine, it was filled with all sorts of kitchsy foods: chocolates, crackers and cheese, cured meats, spiced nuts, the works. It was a glorious surprise, to be honest with you. 

Locally, we don’t really have anything like that, but here’s what you do: find a basket, woven if you can manage it, and go get some tissue paper — the good kind, not Kleenex you savant — and head over to Art Mart and spend about $30-$70 on all kinds of good stuff: pasta and a ragu, chocolates of an odd nature, a mustard, cooking oil, spices, candies, hot sauces, who cares really. It’s a gift, and if you are doing this for someone you love, all you really need to think about is what they would like, and it’s easy. 

Trust me, this will be a gift that goes over super well, with even the most misanthropic asshole in your life. (SF)


Another way to do something irreverant and fun is to simply walk in to Furniture Lounge and head to the back and talk to Matthis at Plant Mode about some ideas on succelents and indoor plants for your special someone. There is genuinely no one in the world worth knowing who is disappointed by getting an interesting vessel filled with a living, breathing, beautiful green plant. 

My favorite thing to do is to just give him my spend, and be like “Do your worst, my friend.” And his worst is always amazing. Fortunate for all of us, it’s his best that you get, so if his worst is amazing, you can imagine the other side of it. 

One of my favorite holiday movies is a recent addition called The Family Stone. I tend to dislike ensemble casts, and I have a pretty high standard when it comes to holiday feature films, so that I found myself both laughing out loud and welling up with tears through the course of the movie was a nice surprise. Without ruining much, that movie got me to thinking about another can’t miss: giving someone a framed photo or piece of artwork.

Well, that’s not true. You could totally miss. But nevertheless, if you are buying for someone you love, and are able to spend a few extra shekels on them, chances are, they are going to be ultra-appreciative of the gesture, and will likely hang it up. 

International Galleries is my go to choice for local framing. A staple in Urbana for over 30 years now, the staff is always helpful, and timely. But with that said, it does take time — so if this is something you want to do, do it soon, if you want that Hannukah gift to get to your chosen person before the 8th night and all the Manischewitz is gone. 

I think it’s worth pointing out that buying clothing for someone is generally a bad bet. Even if you absolutely nail it, size, shape, style — all of it — there’s still something that is missing in the process. People wear clothes to keep warm, or cool, or to be modest, or not — sure, that’s true. But outside of our hair styles, nothing is a more consistent showcase of what sort of person we are. And that’s why we tend to choose our own clothing. 

Regardless, the fact that two locally owned clothing stores still exist in Downtown Champaign is worthy of your attention, and your pocketbook, if it aligns with your financial capabilities and your special friend’s ideas about what they might look good in. 

Circles is a clothing store for women, traditionally. Jos. Kuhn and Co. is a clothing store for men, traditionally. Both appeal to an older demographic, by comparison to say, Urban Outfitters, or a fine shop like Fira, in Gregory Place in Urbana. But this is an OK thing. Older folks like clothes, and generally, they tend to have a bit more coin than young people. 

Fact is, both shops sell fine-crafted, well constructed apparel. It’s not sweatshop material, by and large. I mean, maybe it is? But it certainly doesn’t smack of Forever 21 or The Gap. 

Point being, it’s not the most creative gift in the world, but buying a gift certificate to one of them and offering it to a loved one will do wonders for these stores and their bottom line this time of year. Selling retail in a brick and mortar is one of the most difficult markets to manage these days, so here is how you can support them. 

Fun fact! Jos. Kuhn and Co. is the fourth oldest family owned men’s clothing store in the nation!* (SF)

*Someone recently told me this. I am not doing the fucking research to find out if it’s true. What I can state is that it’s old, like, really old, and if it’s the fourth or the second or the eleventh, it’s all the same to me. Amazing run. 

Photo from a previous SP article above. From 40 North in the middle. Circles photo from SP, and Kuhn’s photo from Wikipedia Commons.


BUY FAIR TRADE: Though not strictly a local business, I love to shop for gifts at Ten Thousands Villages. They are a “fair trade” retailer, which means every item you buy there has been produced by someone receiving a fair wage. You can find jewelry, home decor, chocolate and coffee, knit items and more, and most have a story behind them. When you check the tag and see “Made in Bangladesh”, you can shop knowing that an artisan is being supported rather than a child being exploited.

BUY ORGANIC: Bath and body products are a frequently purchased item for gifts. Skip the stores in the mall and find some great organic and often locally made products at Common Ground Food Co-op and Strawberry Fields. These establishments are also good choices for stocking up on holiday candy that you’ll feel slightly less guilty about, ingredients for your holiday cooking, and of course wine. One of my favorite wine discoveries is found at Common Ground. It’s called Sexual Chocolate. And yes, I bought it specifically for the name, but is also delicious.

BUY USED: It’s an environmentally friendly way to shop and find some unique items along the way. You might find some cool vintage clothing and jewelry, a funky piece of furniture, or you know, the We are the World album. Check out Exile on Main Street, Dandelion, Furniture Lounge, Jane Addams Bookstore, Orphans Treasure Box Bookstore.

DON’T BUY, DONATE! Take this opportunity to donate to one of our many local charities and nonprofits in someone’s name. We all have too much stuff anyway, so use your precious dollars to do some good for the community. There are tons of local organizations that would benefit from your cash, especially this time of year: Habitat for Humanity, The Land Connection, Courage Connection, R.A.C.E.S., the UP Center, Planned Parenthood of Champaign County, Feeding Our Kids, East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center… pick something your loved one is passionate about and give a gift that make someone else’s life just a bit better. (JM)


Another way to lessen the “stuff” syndrome this season is to give the gift of experience. Artsy folks might enjoy some tickets to a show at Krannert Center, you can check out the season’s schedule here. Give a staycation at the Allerton Mansion or pay for a class through the Champaign Park District or Urbana Park District. Escape rooms are super popular now, and C-U has three options for those who like a bit of a brain challenge: Adventures in Time and Space, Brainstorm Escapes, and LabEscape. Snag tickets for a tea ceremony at Japan House for local cultural experience. Look up some extra learning opportunities by Parkland College.

Some other location options: Krannert Art MuseumWILL40 NorthStation TheatreThe Art Theatre Co-OpThe Virginia Theatre. (JM)

Photo by Veronica Mullen.


Perhaps there’s a person who has been dying for a new tattoo, and you want to help them get there — check out Dark Matter Collective. Everyone knows the person who puts off buying their favorite copy of a recent release, so help them get there buy checking out Polyvinyl Records or Exile on Main Street to make that happen. Biking season will be here soon enough once the weather clears, so buy a tune up for a friend at Neutral Cycle. When all else fails, flowers are always an amazing way to brighten someone’s day, so why not Fleurish or Delight Flower Farm (who are doing wreaths this year, again, ya hear)? (PS)

Fleurish photo from our Instagram.


A lot of what you spend goes directly into the economy of Champaign-Urbana — which goes to benefit the City of Champaign and Urbana — so that is something to think about this holiday season, regardless of where you shop in C-U. The Hill Street Parking Deck is free if you spend some dough in Downtown Champaign in December, and street parking in Urbana is free from Thanksgiving to Christmas in Downtown Urbana, so that should help incentivize you if you’re driving closer to a place of business to pick up some things. Better yet, ride the bus via MTD (and maybe get a friend a bus pass for a year, they are so cheap). (PS)

Article compiled and constructed by Julie McClure, Seth Fein, and Patrick Singer. We did our best to designate who wrote what, as it was collaborative in a lot of ways.

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