Smile Politely

A guide to shopping local 2020: Pandemic edition

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on November 25th at 7:00 a.m., though we have republishing it today, December 21st. As a result, some information in this article could be slightly outdated.

Each year, we put together this guide imploring you to spend your hard earned dollars right here in the community, rather than falling prey to the lure of Amazon and the Black Friday deals of the big chain stores.

This year, that Amazon pull is even stronger. We want safe and easy ways to shop for holiday gifts, and that Prime shipping is awfully hard to resist. However, it’s more important than ever to keep our holiday spending here in C-U as much as possible. The pandemic has been anywhere from difficult to devastating for small businesses. As holiday shopping season is descending, our local COVID-19 case counts are rising. In a time where stores are typically bustling, we are trying to avoid people.

Champaign-Urbana businesses, artists, and organizations have worked extraordinarily hard to shift their modes of operation to make safer shopping experiences a possibility. As you shop this season, please consider investing in this community of ours. We want these places to be here when it’s time to publish next year’s guide.

Here I offer up some ways to accomplish this while also staying as safe as possible during this rather precarious time. 


The holiday market is not dead!

In a typical year, one of my very favorite things to do is seek out all of the markets and bazaars and shopping events where I can find a whole bunch of vendors all in one spot. These are still happening, in a different sort of way. Here are a few to check out:

A close up of a hand holding a needlepoint hoop. Stitched on it is a girl on a dark blue background with constellations. Photo from CU Misfit Market Online Portal.

Work by Critically Enraged. Photo from CU Misfit Market Online Portal.

Misfit Market online portal 

The creative forces behind Champaign-Urbana Design Organization (CUDO) launched the Misfit Market last year as a way to showcase makers, performers, and musicians all in one space. This year, that space is virtual. The Misfit Market CU Online Portal is now live, and it’s a one-stop-shop where you can find online stores for so many of your favorite C-U makers and artists, and probably plenty that are new to you as well. 

Holiday Art Pop-up Palooza

Sometime over the course of the next three weekends, snuggle up on your couch and participate in one or more of these pop-up shops featuring 37 artists from the area, adding items for sale in real time. It’s a format that adds a little excitement to the online shopping experience  you never know what is going to show up throughout the day, and you for sure want to be there to snag it before anyone else does. 

Page Bazaar

If you’re looking for an in person yet COVID-concious shopping experience, Erin Erdman of Page Roasting has assembled a collection of makers to sell their goods alongside hers at Flying Machine Avionics throughout the month of December. Only five people are allowed to shop at once. Check out the Facebook event for specific dates and vendors.

The facade of a brick building. There is a row of windows with arches on top. One window says Exile on Main and one says dandelion. Photo by Anna Longworth.

Photo by Anna Longworth.

Hometown Holiday Shop and Stroll

Last year this was one-day event, coinciding with the Festival of Lights Parade, as a Small Business Saturday promotion of Champaign businesses. This year, you have from December 1st to 20th to take advantage of great deals from some of your favorite Downtown, Midtown, and Campustown businesses. Shop at eight of the participating businesses, either online or in person, and you have a chance to win a $100 gift card to the store or restaurant of your choice. 

The Little Red Hut

The annual Mistletoe Market has been replace by the more pandemic-friendly Little Red Hut, organized by Norden at Home. You can find this outdoor shopping stand on Main and Race in Downtown Urbana on Thursdays-Sundays throughout the next month. The Hut will feature goods from 20 different makers. Plus what could be cuter than a little red hut?

CU Community Fab Lab Holiday Market

From November 28th to December 11th, the Fab Lab will have an online market that is also a fundraiser for their summer camp program. All of the proceeds will go to their Scholarship Fund, making the super popular Fab Lab camps accessible to all who want to participate. Stay tuned to their 10th Anniversary website for the market link. 

A bar of soap with the outline of a crow carved into it. The soap is light pink and sits on a brown table. Photo from Developmental Services Center Facebook page.

Photo from Developmental Services Center Facebook page.

The Crow at 110 Online Holiday Open House

The Crow opened in late 2019 as a space to showcase and sell the creative work of individuals with disabilties. This season, they’ve created an online space to do the same. You can find handmade soaps, wax melts, and ornaments and support a good cause with your purchases. 

Champaign-Urbana Winter Farmers Market

The Land Connection has picked up the indoor market baton and they are hosting a small Winter Farmers Market on Saturday mornings through December 19th at Lincoln Square Mall. This is a good place to pick up items from Sugga Shai Sweets, Prairie Fruits Farm, or Delight Flower Farm, as well as find locally grown produce for your holiday feasts. 

Give experiences? During a pandemic?

Indeed, it’s been a year of fewer in-person experiences. Large scale events such as theatre and music performances are just not a thing right now. However, there are still ways to have some quality community experiences while maintaining safety guidelines. 

An image of an older computer with a screen that says Floor 13 A New Game by CU Adventures. Image from CU Adventure in Time and Space Facebook page.

Photo from C-U Adventures in Time and Space Facebook page. 

CU Adventures in Time and Space has developed two online games over the past several months. This is kind of great because you can share these creative and challenging puzzles with friends and family near and far. They’ve even developed an escape room on a t-shirt, which is kind of wild and definitely a unique gift option.

Have a coffee lover in your life? Columbia Street Roastery has two virtual versions of their coffee classes: a cupping class and a brewing class featuring V60 pour overs. Purchase a class a class give someone a small group online experience led by John Herriott. I’ve tried both, and they are super informative and a worthwhile way to spend an hour of your day.

The front of a gray stucco two story house with five rectangular windows. It sits at the end of a long sidewalk. There are woods in the background, and two stone pillars on either side of the house. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

This fall, I had the opportunity to stay overnight at Allerton Park. They are booking the mansion and guest houses during this time, and doing so with added safety protocols. I stayed in The House in the Woods, which is only booking one room at a time, unless you are all in the same group, meaning you don’t have to worry about contact with others. This is the perfect gift for someone who needs a little respite from the four walls of their home. Really, don’t we all need this?

It’s difficult to think of any small business that’s suffered more than restaurants and bars during this time. And while indoor dining is not happening right now (well, it shouldn’t be happening right now), there are still ways to support the establishments you love. Load your loved ones up with gift cards to their favorite places (or yours if you want to encourage them to try new things). One positive to come out of this time is all the ways that restaurants are helping you enhance your dinner experiences at home: To-go cocktails, delivery, family style meals, make at home meals. As you continue your takeout and curbside pickups this season, be generous with the tips if you’re able. Tips are still important even if there isn’t someone serving you at a table. 

A burger with melted cheese and bacon sits on a white plate. Adjacent to the burger is a serving of shredded green brussels sprouts. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Here are a few of my faves that have really done the carryout/curbside thing well: Maize, Watson’s Shack & Rail, Cafe Kopi, Farren’s, Golden Harbor, Seven Saints, Manolo’s, Hamilton Walker’s, Triptych, Everyday Kitchen, Pour Bros. (they have crowlers to-go!), Wood N’ Hog, Neil St. Blues, Pizzeria AnticaThe Bread Company…to name a few. There are so many more. Forget the chains and find some local spots to support. 

Brighten someone’s space

I know so many people who have upped their indoor plant game during these past several months. As we creep into these dark winter months, why not help your friends and family perk up their living spaces? 

A view from above of several plants with dark green leaves and white detailing. Photo from Plant Mode Facebook page.

Photo from Plant Mode Facebook page.

Plant Mode is an extremely safe shopping experience. The inside is open to just two customers at a time, and you can catch a preview of Matthis’ stuff by following the store on Instagram or Facebook. He’s super knowledgeable and helpful, even when you have no idea what you are after.

Plantify came on the scene this summer as protests were heating up, and they had the unfortunate circumstance of having a certain racist barber as a neighbor. The owner stepped it up and brought snacks for the protestors, which in my book makes this a worthwhile place to spend your dollars. 

If you’re looking for something a little more colorful, call up Sarah at Fleurish. All you have to do is give her an idea of the size of arrangement, what you’d like to spend, and maybe some color preferences and she will concoct something beautiful and amazing that is sure to make someone happy. 

Shop in your PJs

Online shopping does not have to mean you are stuck with Amazon and the like. Many of our local retailers make it relatively easy to shop from your computer and support them while remaining in the safety of your home. 

A graphic that features a photo of a matcha tea set. There is a tea canister and a clear container that holds a wooden whisk. Each container has Japanese characters on it. Image from Japan House Facebook page.

Image from Japan House Facebook page. 

Japan House just released their holiday gift guide, and there are so many fun and unique options in it including tea accessories, wagashi making kits, and so much more. I will sorely miss browsing their eclectic Mottainai Bazaar this year, but this is a great alternative. 

Art Coop has had a strong online presence from early on in the pandemic. One of the best things they’ve done is create a variety of kits for art lovers of all ages. Don’t see one you love? They will help you create a custom kit by price point, and they are really good at it. If you’re looking for non-artsy things, this is also one of my favorite places to get slightly oddball items that you won’t find other places. Pull up the online store and you’ll immediately see a Dolly Parton sticker and David Rose candle leading off the inventory page. 

A ceramic tray holds a dark brown bag of coffee, a black coffee pot, a white and light brown coffee mug , and a stack of coffee filters. Photo from Hopscotch Bakery + Market Facebook page.

Photo from Hopscothc Bakery + Market Facebook page.

Another winner in the pandemic pivot game has been Hopscotch Bakery + Market. Through the ins and outs and ups and downs of indoor vs. outdoor vs. curbside, they have made the decision to stay consistent and close off their interior space completely to the public. Instead you order your items online then pick them up at the door. They have a pretty decent array of gift items that you can purchase; check out Instagram for regular updates of what you might find. They’ve also become my go-to spot for pantry and baking staples when I don’t want to deal with the grocery store. 

If you live in C-U, there is surely someone on your list that is an Illinois fan, and we’re about to launch into a promising Illini Basketball season, so browsing Illini Union Bookstore online will surely lead you to some quality items. 

Two white boxes that say

Photo from The Idea Store Facebook page.

Even some of our favorite “buy used” stores have an online presence. I totally get that part of the experience of thrift shopping is browsing and digging, and you can still do that if you are comfortable going out and about, but it’s pretty cool that you can still shop in an environmentally friendly way online at places like The Idea Store and ReStore. Both are continually adding items to their sites. Need to stock up on some reading material for the winter? Orphans Treasure Box Bookstore has a robust online store. Shop at any of these places and you have the added bonus of supporting a non-profit organization. 


Of course, this guide cannot comprehensively cover the robust variety of small businesses that are worth a mention. If you need more ideas, Food and Drink Editor Alyssa Buckley shared some of her favorite food gift ideas, and there will be a new installment of Ask Politely featuring ways to support non-profit organizations this season. 

If you choose to do some in-person shopping, be sure to check store websites before you venture out. Hours can be wonky and change quickly in these times. And hey, wear a mask. It goes over your nose. 

Bottom line: Whether you venture out in person or shop with your fingers, shop wisely and for heaven’s sake spend locally.

Top photo from Champaign Center Partnership Facebook page. 

Staff writer

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