Owner likes it hot (diggity)

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Agnes Jasinski

A makeshift spider web of orange Christmas lights suction-cupped to the display glass welcomes visitors to Hot Diggity!. The shop, full of seasonal trinkets, novelty T-shirts and gag gifts, is making its mark at 501 N. Neil St. in Champaign in its first year at the location.

“I learned a lesson in decorating,” owner Jennifer Bechtel said of her spider web design. “I didn’t know they made those pre-made.”

Dressed in a “Nightmare Before Christmas” sweatshirt, the spiky, red-haired owner of the shop always looks forward to the Halloween season.

Today, the shop will host pumpkin carving, with a few extra pumpkins in the back for people who happen to stop by the store. On Halloween night, the shop will have a party for “kids and kids at heart,” Bechtel said, with a costume contest, scary stories and face painting.

“I always have a special place in my heart for Halloween, since my birthday is Oct. 23,” she said. “I’ve got a little bit of a dark side in me … this is a happy dark holiday. Dressing up as someone else has always been exciting.”

Growing up, Bechtel took her love for dress-up to the theater. From her first performance of “Annie” on the top floor of the Chancellor Hotel to her summer gig as the director of the youth theater program at the Urbana Park District, she has been involved in performance art for more than 20 years.

“It’s turned into my baby,” she said of her work with the program. “It’s an incredible experience when you can feel like you had a hand in helping kids realize their potential.”

Bechtel and her husband, Dan, opened Hot Diggity! last June. The name of the shop came from Bechtel’s more conservative family members, she said, who didn’t approve of her original idea: “Holy Pu!” But Pu Diggity, the name of the shop’s monkey mascot, is still a presence there. His face is painted on the shop’s sign outside in a background of flames, and he and his group of friends – all creations by Bechtel and her husband – are featured inside above the cash register.

When the shop opened, its target customer base was high school and college students. A pleasant surprise for the Bechtels has been a more diverse mix of customers.

“We see moms a lot with their kids … when the kids get caught up in something, the moms start looking around and get as excited about the merchandise as the kids do,” she said.

The nostalgic feel of the store, Bechtel said, is what gets more adults coming in to see memorabilia from their childhoods. Adults looking for “irreverent humor without being mean,” she said, are also at the right place.

“I’m looking for a fun, off-the-wall type of thing for a birthday gift,” said John Farney, an Urbana resident. “It’s my first time in here. I’ve had several friends tell me I should come take a look at the place.”

Farney left with several gifts for his co-worker who “hates George Bush,” he said, including a pack of “dum gum” with the President’s face on the cover, a T-shirt and a button.

Bechtel said she would like to get more “niche Halloween stuff” to prepare for next year without trying to compete with Dallas and Co. Costumes and Magic, 101 E. University Avenue. Customers have come into the shop this week asking about random extras for their costumes, from Homestar Runner T-shirts to lime green tights.

“I like to keep an eye out for things people are looking for,” she said. “I keep a list of what people would like to see in the future.”

A new addition to the T-shirt racks this month sums up the shop’s idea of Halloween to a “T” – Happy Hot Diggoween!