Despite economy, new businesses coming to campus

By Aaron Geiger

Anyone walking around Campustown last semester was sure to notice the ant-like mentality of the booming construction along Green Street and the campus periphery. It’s hard not to miss the blocked off streets, the looming cranes and the new businesses popping up. Aren’t we in the middle of a recession? Someone forgot to tell Champaign-Urbana that the economy is in a rut.

There are a few reasons for students to be thrilled, in fact, even though the growth of new businesses is slowing down. For starters, Campustown will finally have a full-sized grocery store, County Market, which will be located near the corner of Fourth Street and Springfield Avenue. Not since 1998, with the exit of Jewel at Neil and Green, has there been a full-sized store within walking distance. Euro-Mart and Am-Ko – filling international food niches – should remain unchanged. Hauling bags of food on the bus or asking for rides will be a thing of the past.

“I have no quarrel with Walgreen’s, but I’m sick of making the winter hikes to buy cereal and Ramen,” said Jeff Jones, a Campustown resident. “I’m ecstatic that there will be a grocery store with real produce nearby.”

Students have already seen the rise of Urban Outfitters, which has been a big hit, and there are more college-oriented businesses to come.

“With the construction of the Green Street high-rises, we’re going to see more high-end retail emerging in that area, with stuff you would normally see in Chicago,” said Erik Kotewa, the deputy director of Champaign County Economic Development.

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Kotewa predicts that Green Street will only see a slight downturn in development in the short term, if it does at all, unless enrollment at the University decreases sharply- – a factor that is not projected to take place.

“It’s interesting to see that the consumer side of things is less impacted, because students have less resources available,” Kotewa said, referring to the fact that most students generally rely on nearby businesses for most of their services including; laundry, food, entertainment and retail.

According to Craig Rost, deputy city manager for development, there has been a slowing of business proposals.

“There will be a Panera opening on Fourth and Green, but there aren’t a lot of new stuff proposed,” Rost said. “We’re going to have to see some more economic turnaround before we see some more proposals.”

In downtown Champaign, the second haven for students escaping Campustown, there has been a new flurry of activity, notably from One Main, building its own large structures just west of Neil Street. In the upcoming year students will find a new Bank of Champaign, and a salon/spa/boutique that hasn’t yet been formally announced. Perhaps more importantly to college students, there is a new gem arriving for beer aficionados.

“Destihl is opening. They’re a restaurant and brewery,” said Emily Schmit, M2 marketing and communications director.

Destihl, created by brewmaster and CEO Matt Potts is based out of Normal, Ill. Champaign is only the second Destihl Restaurant & Brew Works location to open.

“We are ecstatic to be opening Destihl in Champaign and to be a part of this city’s impressive downtown redevelopment,” said Matt Potts, according to a press release from One Main.

Destihl will fill the obvious brewery void in Champaign, and will offer some cuisine dubbed “gastropub” food that should fit in with the local restaurant fare in the area. Types of food will vary and will be paired with unique lagers and ales.

Additionally, Destihl is planning to make its own distilled spirits on site, which is a rarity in the United States, and not just the Champaign area.

Will the new area attractions have enough savoir faire and consumer support to maintain in the unpredictable year of 2009?

“Students like to go where the action is,” Kotewa said. “When it comes to trends, that’s where they’ll be.”