Chick-fil-A diminishes unique, historical University dining options

By Aidan Berg, Columnist

Across campus, students rejoice as the new Chick-fil-A moves into town. But what is it taking away from Champaign? We’re all still reeling from our losses in the bar scene, with KAM’s under renovation, the Illini Inn renovated, and Cly’s and Firehaus gone. With so many Campustown staples out of commission, is another fast-food joint what we really need?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love cheap, delicious food just as much as the next guy, but how much cheap, delicious food can Champaign take before it becomes identical to every other college town in the country?

Let’s look at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example. It has Fat Sandwich, Potbelly, Espresso Royale, Starbucks, Einstein Bros., Jimmy John’s, Qdoba, Chick-fil-A — sound familiar? All these fast-food and coffee places latch on to the sides of our universities, poaching on our populations of students who survive on fast-food and coffee. All our little businesses — Cravings, Legends and yes, KAM’s — add their own flavors to Champaign. They’re what make our Champaign different from their Madison.

What does Chick-fil-A have to do with this? To me, it is just another fast-food restaurant. The problem is no one goes to college here and remembers the glory days at Chick-fil-A: They remember KAM’s.

Little, strange and unique places are what make going to school here something memorable, something a little bit more than just the University of Illinois. The memories small businesses leave will always be stronger in the minds of our alumni than the statistics about how great our academic standing is. The more fast-food places that get a foothold in Champaign, the less space we leave for small businesses with strange smells and stranger stories.

And it couldn’t come at a more dangerous time. The bar scene is still a mess, and over the summer, we lost too many restaurants along Green Street. I’m positive it will sort itself out in the end, but how much fast-food is too much? Before the bars get to the new normal, how many storefronts will have become another place for mediocre and cheap food for students who, like me, have no standard to what they’ll eat? How long until the market becomes oversaturated and Champaign becomes a mess of shuttered buildings because, shocker, I don’t eat at fast-food places twenty times a day?

Maybe I’m just an old man yelling at a cloud. Maybe nothing can be done for Champaign. Maybe we’ll just lose our unique dining to every fast-food restaurant. Maybe we’ll lose Green Street to luxury apartments with these fast-food restaurants and coffee shops on the first floor like the ones sitting on the graves of Cly’s and Firehaus. If that’s the case, I’ll be sad to see it go.

Aidan is a freshman in AHS.

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