Smile Politely

Country Fair is a massive lot of untapped potential

With the recent news that the CVS at the Country Fair Shopping Center in West Champaign is set to close on October 3rd, there are questions about the future of the shopping complex. If you’ve ever driven by or visited Country Fair, you’ll know that it largely resembles a massive empty parking lot with a Big Lots and a handful of other discount stores. Located near at the intersection of Springfield and Mattis Avenues, this unsightly shopping center is in close proximity to a large residential area with a number of homes and apartment complexes as well as another large strip mall, the Round Barn Shopping Center. 

Perhaps the six vacant storefronts are due to the perception that the neighborhood is lower income and less likely to attract high paying customers. Here at Smile Politely, however, we see it as yet another space brimming with potential to be more for the residents of and visitors to our community. Indeed, given its proximity to the I-72 exit, we think it could be an important destination for travelers coming through Central Illinois. So imagine with us, dear reader, the possibilities. 

It will come as no surprise that one of the first things we’d do with the space is add some greenery. Champaign-Urbana is full of lovely parks of all sizes and this would be a great space to add some trees and playground equipment for kids. At 33 acres, this space could also accommodate a paved path for runners, skaters, and bikers, as well as plenty of space for programming. We’d also like to see the return of the West Champaign Farmer’s Market, which used to happen on Wednesdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. If some of this is sounding familiar, we had a similar aspiration for Lincoln Square four years ago. 

In addition, we’d love to see more art and creative spaces. Two decades ago, there was a movie theater in the shopping center. Perhaps a new movie theater or art movie theater could come to the area. An escape room would be well received. Other ideas include make-and-take crafts places or, as we mentioned in our article about reimagining Downtown Urbana, some activities for kids, like a hands-on science museum or indoor playground. 

We wouldn’t entirely do away with the commercial potential of the area. Given the proximity to the interstate, we think it would be great if a chain restaurant or some fast-casual dining options opened up in the area. Though we typically prefer locally owned places, national chains tend to have more financial security and corporate support than small, locally owned and operated restaurants. Tasty, affordable food would be welcomed by travelers and local families alike. 

Whatever ultimately happens to the vacated CVS and other empty spaces in Country Fair, right now it’s a massive swath of concrete jungle that does not live up to its potential to serve local families, provide affordable food and entertainment, and entice travelers to stop over in Champaign on their way through Central Illinois. What do you think should happen with the space? Email us your ideas

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.

Top photo by Julie McClue. 

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