We are fortunate that so many of our local gems have survived the pandemic, and are continuing to flourish and enrich our community. Let’s support them through this holiday shopping season. This guide is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it will give you a good start. Whether you are ready to get out and wander through stores and markets, or you’d rather shop at home in your jammies, hopefully these local spots can help you check off all the items on your list.
When you want a shopping experience
One of my favorite ways to shop for holiday gifts is to hit up the many many pop up holiday markets that happen this time of year. There are often opportunities to snack and/or drink while you shop and that is always a wonderful thing, and this is the perfect way to support the work of so many of the amazing artists and makers we have in the area. Follow the links for dates and hours.
Shop in the historic mansion and enjoy a lunch buffet. Tickets are required for both. Bonus: Japan House will be there this year, with their annual Mottainai Bazaar. Double Bonus: You can experience Holiday GLOW if you go in the evening.
Visit the farm store on weekends and enjoy snacks, hot drinks, wine, and more while you shop.
The German-style market returns with spiced wine, beer, German food, and local vendors, all in cute wooden huts.
Visit this annual gathering of makers at Lisa Kesler Studio.
Norden at Home (and my pipapo) is also behind this event, partnering with MEW. There are two opportunities to shop the Mistletoe Market, at Lincoln Square Mall and The Venue, and get a cozy, festive shopping experience while you support local makers.
Shop for ceramics, some for every day use and some for decor.
When you’d really rather stay on your couch
Champaign Center Partnership has a cool one-stop shop sort of thing going on right now, where you can get a variety of gift cards to Downtown, Midtown, and Campustown establishments and they will deliver them to your house to distribute. There are restaurants, salons, home goods, and more, and even opportunities to donate to some of your favorite local organizations. Also, many of the businesses suggested in this article have online shopping and curbside pickup available, if mingling with the public isn’t your jam right now.
Explore some new places
The pandemic has made things kind of wacky for local businesses, but we’ve still had some new spots open recently. Golden Weather Goods, Firedoll Studio, and The Literary have all opened in Downtown Champaign this year, and have fun and unique gifty type items, especially if you are buying for someone who likes to spend a cozy evening at home.
Seek out minority-owned businesses
I’m thankful for these handy business directories. Intentional shopping is a form of social justice.
For the plant lover
The pandemic has created a whole plant-loving culture, as we’ve spent more time in our homes and sought to beautify our spaces. For houseplants, Plant Mode and Plantify are perfect options. Even if you have no idea what you are shopping for, the very knowledgeable owners can steer you in the right direction.
Flowers are more fleeting, but would certainly brighten someone’s holiday experience. Give Sarah at Fleurish an idea of price point and gift receiver and she will create something unique and amazing. You can find pre-made bouquets of locally-grown blooms from Delight Flower Farm at various retail locations throughout C-U.
For someone who is ready to get the eff out of the house
Now that vaccines are available to everyone five and up, and boosters are plentiful, people in your life might be more ready to get out and do things, certainly more than they were last year this time.
CU Adventures in Time and Space offers gift certificates to use on any of their in-person rooms.
Treat your family or friend group to a private Prism Studios art party. The Prism folx will bring everything you need, meet each of you at your own goals and offer supportive and helpful instruction. Best of all, they’ll clean up after you.
For the person who can appreciate reducing, reusing, and recycling
We are fortunate to have many options for buying used and vintage items here in C-U. Textiles create a lot of waste, but you can find some quality pieces at places like Karma Trade and Dandelion. Do some treasure hunting at Furniture Lounge or Restore (surely someone in your life wants this ceiling fan). Stock up on used books at Jane Addams, Orphans Treasure Box, or Priceless Books.
For the person with a niche hobby
I’m not a gaming sort of person, but many are, and whether you are looking for Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing games and accessories, board games, or card games, you can find it in C-U. Check out Gopher Mafia, Titan Games, or Enchantment Alley. G-Mart has some of these items as well, in addition to their expansive comic book selection. Beads N Botanicals and International Galleries are interesting places to find gifts for those exploring spiritual realms. The latter is also a great place to find art prints and interesting jewelry. Find ideas for music collectors at Record Swap or Exile on Main.
For the artist or maker in your life
If you have experienced or budding painter, illustrator, or printmaker on your list, Art Coop has a wide range of supplies and kits appropriate for kids and adults. If you’re not sure which brush or pen is right for your special someone, a gift card (physical or digital) is always a great option. And check out the new selection of fiber art supplies. Nothing says happy holidays like sparkly embroidery floss. Crafters might appreciate a collection of ephemera from The Idea Store, or a gift card so they can find yarn, jewelry making supplies, and any sort of items to remake into art.
For someone with a sweet tooth
We have so many great bakeries that have goods that will travel well. Suzu’s shortbread cookies and miso brownies are always a hit. Tasty Tart’s holiday tarts (or any of the regular flavored tarts) would make a great gift. Cool Bliss Pop Bliss sells caramelized popcorn (in addition to savory flavors like bacon and buffalo ranch) and all sorts of chocolate covered things, including Oreos and marshmallows and Rice Krispie treats.
For someone who drinks coffee or tea
Fortunately, we have some great local options for coffee and tea. Both Columbia Street Roastery and Walnut Street Tea Co. offer a large selection of not just the coffees and teas but all the accessories you might need to accompany them. Or, pick up some Page Roasting Co. beans at Common Ground, and supplement them with some organic treats. Gift cards to any of our local coffee shops (i.e. Cafe Kopi, Caffe Paradiso, Espresso Royale, Flying Machine Avionics, etc) would also make a nice gift for the coffee-lover on your list.
For someone who drinks booze
We have a lot of great local breweries that sell cans which you can gift. Find them at our local groceries or order directly from the breweries. Try Triptych’s O Christmas Meme, O Christmas Meme or Blind Pig’s U of IPA, especially for a U of I alum. For wine lovers, try Sleepy Creek Vineyard, or have Todd at Art Mart help you choose the perfect varietal for anyone on your lists. For cocktails, you should get some of Hamilton Walker’s cocktails to-go. Topped with a bow, those pretty glass bottles of an already-mixed drink would be a tasty gift.
For the person who loves takeout or going out
Give them money to a local restaurant. There are so many great ones, but here a few recommendations of places with gift cards available for purchase: Neil St. Blues, Watson’s, Farren’s, Seven Saints, Pizzeria Antica, Papa Del’s. Black Dog, Sitara, Crane Alley, Bread Company.
For a foodie who has everything
Check out some of our local shops which sell unique items. Art Mart has kitchenware, artisan pantry items, wine, beer, and a variety of baked goods which would make a lovely treat for any holiday host. Cheese & Crackers has chocolates and unique party items like rainbow pasta and fancy olive oil in addition to their scrumptious sandwiches. Check out El Progreso, too, and shop for Mexican cooking ingredients, pinatas, snacks, and stocking stuffers. One of these stores will have something they don’t have.
For the person who doesn’t want or need stuff
Donate to a cause in honor of your friends and family who really don’t need anything. Many local organizations are still in recovery mode because of the pandemic, and would be very appreciative of some extra dollars. Uniting Pride, Cunningham Township Angel Fund, Courage Connection, Jubilee Cafe, Planned Parenthood of Illinois, C-U Trauma and Resilience, Rattle the Stars, WILL, The Refugee Center, Books to Prisoners, First Followers…are some good options.
Alyssa Buckley, Debra Domal, and Julie McClure contributed to this article.