Smile Politely

Common Ground announces new location in Downtown Champaign

This is a big deal, everyone. A big deal for our community.

A rather important thing is happening: Common Ground Food Co-op is revealing the location of their new store in Downtown Champaign: 500 North Walnut Street.

Having a grocery store in Downtown — let alone another Common Ground, a very conscious and popular co-op — will be a game changer. The entire north side of Downtown Champaign will benefit. More people, development, and growth in the right way for this area of the community.

Infill is the thing here, folks. Either we’re going to be the sort of community that rebuilds what our ancestors left for us, or we’re going to let it rot, and build more poorly constructed and unappealing spaces to engage with one another. 

It’s our choice. And as many of us are owners of the co-op, we applaud this decision. 

We have all the details for you below. Management at CGFC was kind enough to answer some questions for us and help push out as much information to you as is possible at this early stage, but this is a really great thing. 

Here’s a set of FAQs that might run through your brain, which has been provided by Common Ground:

Q: So is this store a guaranteed thing now?

Common Ground: As strongly as we feel about the viability of the 2nd store plan, it still requires funding. We are working with the City of Champaign on getting a needed sales tax rebate to pay for updates to the site. We’ll need your help to bring 900 new owners to CGFC (we currently have over 5000) to raise owner equity dollars and to run a successful owner loan campaign this fall. We will also need to secure bank loans. As soon as all the financing is in place, we can remove all contingencies and start build out.

Q: So if the funding does all come through, when will the store open?

CG: That could vary depending on when the financing is complete, but projections right now are for early 2016.

Q: What will the Champaign store offer? What will be the same as the Urbana Store? What will be different?

CG: The preliminary design for the Champaign store has 8000 retail shopping square feet, in comparison to the Urbana store’s 5700 retail square feet. Its offerings in most departments will be very comparable to the Urbana store. In the current plans, the largest differences are for the deli, which will have a hot bar, more full service options, and more in-store seating, as requested by the owners. We’re also working on having a modest, but mighty, fresh meat program where we offer value-added meats made on site — meaning handmade sausages, meal-ready marinated meats, and more. There will be many opportunities for owners to give input, beginning at our spring Meeting of Owners on April 18th.

Q: When can I make an owner loan? What are the details?

CG: We’re so glad to hear from owners who want to economically take part in making the 2nd CGFC store a reality. We’ve been hearing at least once a week of someone already wanting to make a loan for the Champaign Store, before we even had a location! Owner loans will be a key part of our financing for the second store. Expect details about the owner loan campaign to come out by late this summer.

Q: What can we do now? What can we do to support the Champaign Store going forward other than loans?

CG: Glad you asked! We need to bring new owners to CGFC! Help us get the word out that CGFC is coming to Champaign and ask your friends in Champaign to step up now and become owners so we know there is real demand for the store! We’ll be running an owner drive from April 1st until we get to 900 new owners. We have to meet this step before starting the owner loan campaign, so help us spread the word about CGFC ownership!

Q: Wait, isn’t that space, 500 N. Walnut Street, where Simply Amish is now? Are they leaving?

CG: Yes, it is the location where Simply Amish currently is (plus many more square feet connected to that space.) We were concerned about Simply Amish, a great local business, as well, but not to worry! From Ramon Vega, the owner of Simply Amish, “(the building owner) has kept me informed throughout the entire process. I feel that Common Ground locating in downtown Champaign will have a very positive effect on the future of the site and development as a whole of North Downtown. (The building owner) offered alternative space in the development when complete. I would definitely be interested in staying in the overall development and will consider it after seeing the full development and the effects it has on the area.”

A rendering of the new location.
In addition, here’s the letter to the owners of Common Ground:

Your Board of Directors is pleased to announce, after two years of feasibility study and a one year site search, that Common Ground Food Co-op has just signed a lease, with contingencies, for a 2nd store in downtown Champaign at 500 N. Walnut Street.

In the fall of 2011 the board facilitated a workshop with owners and staff to gather input for future initiatives. One of the strongest themes to emerge from that discussion was the desire for more Common Ground stores in the C-U community. Owners realized, and the board agreed, this would be one of the best ways to support the Ends of our cooperatively owned business.

At the time, Common Ground was in the process of planning and executing a major expansion of its existing location at Lincoln Square. When that project was completed in the Spring of 2013 the General Manager, Jacqueline Hannah, asked the board for approval to conduct a feasibility study for a second location in Champaign. The board unanimously approved the request, and over the next year the GM examined our financial, operational, and market readiness for an additional store.

In June of 2014 Jacqueline presented her feasibility findings to the board, which demonstrated readiness in all areas to move forward. Once again the board authorized Common Ground’s staff to proceed to the next step: site search and securing a location. That search culminated in today’s announcement, and we’re pleased to report that this location met all of our requirements. The next steps for the staff and board include designing the space, securing financing, and removing all contingencies so construction can begin.

Below you can read a Q&A [SP Ed. Note, the Q&A is above, not below] summary related to this announcement. Jacqueline will be in the store Saturday, March 21st from 10am to noon with drawings of the site as well as preliminary store layout drawings to answer your questions about the 2nd store plans. You can also email any questions to your board at or to Jacqueline at In addition, our Spring Owner Update meeting is taking place on Saturday, April 18th, where we will share more updates and resume collecting feedback from you, Common Ground’s owners, about what you want to see in your 2nd store location.

In cooperation,

CGFC Board of Directors

Todd Sweet

Martha Mills

Julie Zilles

Eric Benson

Magdalena Casper-Shipp

Megan Gillette

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Halie Kastl

A huge congrats to Common Ground from everyone here at Smile Politely, as this is a big step forward for Champaign-Urbana.
[Eds. Note: Some of the text from the Q & A and the letter have since been updated from the time we initially posted the article.]

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