Smile Politely

Revisiting Lincoln Square Mall

Back in 2015, photographer Sam Logan took us on a tour through the establishments that occupied the storefronts in Lincoln Square Mall. For a “dead” mall, it’s certainly undergone a lot of changes in the past several years. Most of the places documented in 2015 are no longer there.

The mall is a peculiar sort of place. I’m there every week, and it’s still generally quiet, but there are bursts of life there. It can certainly be bustling on Saturday mornings this time of year, as the Winter Farmers Market began last weekend. Of course Common Ground Food Co-op remains an important anchor. There are a few churches that gather there, and a sprinkling of medical, political, and other offices. You can get acupuncture or a massage if you so desire. International Galleries is still there, with a wonderfully electic selection of artwork, gifts, and spiritual items. You can get something framed and have a tarot reading, all in the same visit. 

It seems to have become some sort of hub for martial arts, which is interesting and fun. Central Illinois Aikikai, Vonnara Muay Thai, and CU Jiu Jitsu can all be found there.

A storefront with large windows and a sign post down the middle that says

Photo by Julie McClure.
A storefront that is painted black with two large windows, one with a closed curtain. There is an open door in the center. A sign in yellow letters says Vonnara Muay Thai. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.
A storefront that is all window, looking into a large gym with orange and blue columns and a black mat covering the floor. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

A few businesses have moved into Lincoln Square over the past few years. Defy Gravity Pole and Aerial Arts moved from it’s previous location on Green Street to Lincoln Square in 2019.

A sign with Defy Gravity in black block letters hangs over an entrance with a maroon door and glass tiled walls on either side. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

The Idea Store moved there in 2018, taking over the massive space previously occupied by Art Mart. 

A large hallway with storefronts on either side, paper butterflies are hanging from the ceiling. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Record Swap took over the space where the Courage Connection resale shop once lived, after spending more than 10 years on University Avenue. You can find a more extensive history of the 40+ year old business here.

A storefront with a black painting wall across the top, and windows below. There is a white sign with black lettering that says Record Swap hanging over the entrance. T-shirts and mannequins playing drums are in the window displays. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Art Coop has been at Lincoln Square for a bit, taking up residence there in 2010, but Anna Peters and Hilary Pope have injected some flavor into it since taking over ownership. I love walking by this giant celebration of queerness. It such a warm and welcoming space.

A large window with a neon sign that says art coop in red, and there is a duck with a hat in white above the words. There are colorful papers cut into shapes that reflect the colors of various LGBTQ+ flags. No Terfs and LGBTQIGAAAAAAAAAY is spelled out across the bottom. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Beard Culture is a super recent addition, as a combination barber shop and art gallery. 

Looking across a portion of the mall, there is a storefront with several long narrow windows that are rounded at the top. Above them hangs a black sign that says Beard Culture in white, and Barbershop, Gallery in red. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Here at Smile Politely, we are very interested in the food and drink scene, and Lincoln Square has become home to some solid options.

A wall with a black background painted with large cartoonish depictions of pizza, sandwiches, and other foods. A sign on the right side says Balderotta's Porketta and Sicilian Sausage. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Baldarotta’s has taken over the entire “food court” space, serving up Sicilian inspired sandwiches and more. They recently expanded to include a gelataria. 

A large ornate planter with dark wood and asian-inspired detailing sits in front of a restaurant entrance that is bright green. A yellow sign that says Stango in black script with a depiction of an African woman carrying a bowl on her head hangs above the entrance. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Stango Cuisine inhabits the former Tang Dynasty space, after beginning their restaurant life in the current home of Baldarotta’s. It’s the only Zambian food in town, and it’s delicious.

A chalkboard tent sign sits in front of a large open storefront. There is a long bar, painted blue, and a few sets of tables and chairs. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Two new kids on the block co-exist in this expansive space that has seen a few businesses come and go, most recently 88 Broadway, Spark Museum and Play Cafe, and Arcadia: A Lumen Cafe. Did that last one happen? I honestly don’t remember. But now, RegCakes and Cloud Kombucha are sharing the space. RegCakes is a gluten free bakery that has been appearing at the farmers market for a while. Cloud Mountain Kombucha is the first kombucha brewery in town. 

Glass doors framed in wood are flanked by brick wall. A wooden sign with Alumni Tap in stylized lettering hangs over the entrance. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Hotel Royer is slated to open in 2022. According to this article from Illinois Newsroom, the Alumni Tap will be become the hotel’s fitness center, and the original main entrance, that opens into the Balderotta’s food court space, will become a lobby bar. 

A brand new hotel is certain to change the landscape of Lincoln Square, hopefully as a catalyst for more unique businesses to find a home there.

Top photo from City of Urbana website.

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