Smile Politely

A guide to shopping local: 2021

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.

Small wooden huts with various items for sale surround the perimeter of an open area. A fire pit and high top tables are in the foreground. Photo from Riggs Christmas Market event page.

Photo from Riggs Christmas Market 2021 event page.

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.

Holiday Showcase at Allerton Mansion 

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.

Prairie Fruits Farm

Visit the farm store on weekends and enjoy snacks, hot drinks, wine, and more while you shop.

Riggs Christmas Market

The German-style market returns with spiced wine, beer, German food, and local vendors, all in cute wooden huts.

Hooey Holiday Home

Visit this annual gathering of makers at Lisa Kesler Studio. 

Little Red Hut

The Little Red Hut debuted last year, a pandemic creation of the folks at Norden at Home. They are back this year, but inside at 206 W Main Street in Urbana. 

Mistletoe Market

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.

Tom Brewer Gallery Annual Holiday Sale

Shop for ceramics, some for every day use and some for decor. 

An array of multi colored gift cards fanned out. Photo from Champaign Center Partnership Facebook page.

Photo from Champaign Center Partnership Facebook page.

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.

A rectangular box with a silhouette of a girl with a ponytail and Fire Doll in black script is surrounded by various candles and other gift items. It sits on a wooden countertop. Photo by Veronica Mullen.

Photo by Veronica Mullen.

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.

A three tiered wooden stand. The top shelf has white mugs that say Black Lives Matter in black lettering, the second shelf has multi colored marbled coasters, and the bottom shelf has masks with Black Lives Matter in white lettering. Photo from Buy Black Chambana Facebook page.

Photo from Buy Black Chambana Facebook page.

Seek out minority-owned businesses

I’m thankful for these handy business directories. Intentional shopping is a form of social justice.

LGBTQ+ owned (and/or affirming) 

Black owned

Woman owned

Immigrant owned

Shelves lined with green leafy plants. Photo by Michael O'Boyle.

Photo by Michael O’Boyle.

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.

People are sitting in an outdoor theater on white steps. There is red brick in the foreground and sun shining through the buildings on the horizon. Photo by Anna Longworth.

Photo by Anna Longworth.

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.

Both Champaign and Urbana Park District will be having Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales for pool passes. Champaign Park District will also have discounted Leonhard Recreation Center memberships.

If you know someone who is anxious to get back to live performance, how about tickets to a show at Krannert Center or The Virginia Theatre?

CU Adventures in Time and Space offers gift certificates to use on any of their in-person rooms. 

Maybe you know someone who needs to get some angsty feelings out and would like an opportunity to smash things at Smash*It CU or Rage Room Champaign

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. 

A vintage erector set in a red metal case. Photo from Champaign County Restore Facebook page.

Photo from Champaign County Restore Facebook page.

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.

A row of black vinyl records. Photo by Anna Longworth.

Photo by Anna Longworth.

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.

A plastic bag filled with a collection of stickers, newspaper clippings, and other bits of paper and photos. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

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.

A thick slice of chocolate brownie with chocolate icing. There is a sprinkling of almonds slices on top. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

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.

Two bags of coffee beans sitting on a countertop. The bags are copper colored, and the label has a black and white print of a women holding up a pourover coffee container. Photo from Page Roasting Company Facebook page.

Photo from Page Roasting Company Facebook page.

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. 

Four cocktail glasses anad four plastic bottles lined up on a bar. The bottles have a red and orange label with HW on them. Photo from Hamilton Walker's Facebook page.

Photo from Hamilton Walker’s Facebook page.

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. 

An open faced burger with melted cheddar cheese on a white plate. There is a green salad on the plate and a basket of thin cut fries in the background. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Photo by Jessica Hammie.

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

A row of brightly colored bottles of Jarritos sodas on a grocery shelf. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

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. 

A white tailgate tent that says A person sits at a table underneath, and several pride flags hang along the table and the tent. Photo by Eric Frahm.

Photo by Eric Frahm.

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.

Top photo from Champaign Center Partnership Facebook page.

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