Local businesses reflect on lessons, experiences from past year

By Carolina Garibay

This past year has posed countless hardships for businesses across the nation, and now more than ever, it’s important to support Champaign-Urbana’s local eateries, shops and boutiques. Despite the immeasurable challenges of COVID-19, these businesses continue to persevere and overcome these obstacles, embodying C-U’s resilient nature. As we reflect on this year, some businesses have shared their experiences and some lessons they’ve learned during the pandemic.

The Upper Bout

Quarantine has led to the discovery of many new hobbies and interests. For many, music and learning to play an instrument were some of those hobbies.

“Everybody needed something to do to occupy their time at home, and playing an instrument or learning a new instrument was one of those things that everybody just kind of wanted to do,” said Andrew Kauffman, store manager of The Upper Bout in Champaign.

The Upper Bout is a retail music store that emphasizes the relationship between the store and its customers so customers can have the best instrument-buying experience.

Kauffman said The Upper Bout employees were out of work for two months last year when quarantine started. They were able to return to work in May 2020, and Kauffman praised the overwhelming support the Champaign community showed The Upper Bout.

“After everybody got back from lockdown, there was this renewed sense of community and oneness that kind of continued through onto this year,” he said. “It really does illustrate and emphasize the fact that community is so important.”

Kauffman said the pandemic taught him just how important community support is and how powerful it can be in times of division and hardship, whether that be in the community, in the country or across the world.

“There’s been a lot of political and all sorts of other turmoil in the news and in our country,” Kauffman said. “But here in Champaign specifically, it’s been nice to see everybody just kind of rally together as a community and support one another.”

Plantify 

As quarantine progressed, many began collecting plants as a distraction from the stressors of daily life. Opened last June, Plantify is a plant shop located on the outskirts of downtown Champaign that aims to help people beautify their spaces with plants.

“Plantify was started out with my desire to help people beautify their space with plants. Beyond their aesthetic value, plants can help create a tranquil and positive environment, which makes them an excellent addition to any living space,” said Long Luu, owner of Plantify.

The shop sells easy-care indoor plants in sizes ranging from small to large, such as succulents, monstera, cacti and other tropical houseplants. Plantify also sells planters, candles, keychains, plant care accessories and free consultations and plant repotting.

Luu said opening a business during COVID-19 was challenging, and the store ensured the safety of its employees and customers by carefully navigating and adhering to COVID-19 protection guidelines.

He said Plantify was lucky because of its understanding, cooperative customers who helped the shop maintain a safe and comforting environment since its opening day. Luu said he learned there’s always an opportunity to understand what people need and to offer them solutions to remedy their challenges.

“As our way of life changes, the need to make our space comforting and relaxing has risen more than ever, and Plantify has strived to help customers with that,” he explained.

Luu said he thinks Plantify brings a breath of fresh air to C-U. The store has been growing steadily over this past year, and Luu explained Plantify will soon be moving into a larger store where more modern, elegant and unique items will be added to the shop’s decor and gift selection.

“We have and will always try to create a lush and welcoming space that fosters a sense of peace for visitors…, ” Luu said. “We find great joy in helping people find ways to style and brighten up their space every day.