On Saturday, January 25th, I had the pleasure of visiting the Nifty Nook and chatting with its creator Judy Lee. The Nifty Nook is a creative collective that features the works of Champaign Urbana makers. Located inside of Enchantment Alley at 123 W. Main Street in Urbana, Nifty Nook began with a soft opening on January 14th, but will hosting a Valentine’s Grand Opening on Saturday, February 1st, at 11 a.m. 

As soon as I stepped into the space I was delighted to see the variety and large amount of handmade goods. It was a wonderful experience because I saw work from artists I know personally, EKAH and Keenan, but I was also able to discover a lot of talented individuals I had not heard of before. This past year I’ve been falling more and more in love with the art community that exists in Urbana Champaign. The Nifty Nook is such a great environment for a cooperative. It is a powerful thing to see artists working together to cultivate this long-term market.


Image: Photo of female shopper browsing handmade items and prints along a black covered table at the Nifty Nook. Photo by Apolonia Wielgus

Lee was inspired to create this collaborative market space based on her past experiences with pop up shops. The Nifty Nook started as a holiday pop up shop in Broadway Food Hall in 2018. This past year they were located at 133 W. Main. A permanent location allows the artists participating to have their work on display continuously throughout the year. According to Lee, the idea behind the new Nifty Nook “was that people could easily find our work and also do easy pick up[s] for customs and commissions.” Handmade goods are very special and being able to display them for longer periods of time is beneficial to customers. It allows them to have a place they can revisit if they were not able to purchase something the first time and to bring others along with them.

To become a Nifty Nook member and display your work in this space requires a $75 monthly fee. Membership includes many benefits, including not having to be present to conduct sales, being featured in social media promotion and access to member specific events, such as workshops. Nifty Nook values an entrepreneurship spirit. The current makers include craftspeople, artists, and tinkerers.

The full list of makers is as follows:

  • Brianna / landpenguin
  • FunAfraid
  • Steampunk Grub
  • Keenan
  • The Quirky Quiltress
  • Piper Pottery + Crafts
  • Judiee
  • Westmore Place
  • Jam and Bee Ceramics
  • Tiny Grace Jewelry
  • Big Grove Apiaries
  • Brace and Byte
  • Data Pillow
  • Critically Enraged

I love how unique everyone’s work is within Nifty Nook. While taking my time to look at all the tables I could feel each maker’s personality emitting through their pieces. Critically Enraged Embroidery has become one of my favorite makers this past year. Each quote that is incorporated in the works is so bold and witty. Additionally, the imagery achieved using thread is admirable. I enjoy being able to appreciate work that is so different from my own and gain artistic inspiration from it.


Image: Books, stickers and ornaments from artist Judy Lee arranged on a lime green table cloth. Photo by Apolonia Wielgus

Lee knows all the artists selling their work personally. Her favorite part is that “all of us are connected to Champaign Urbana. [By being] either current residents or alumni”. Lee is an alumna of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign herself, having graduated from the graphic design program in 2009. She has lived in the area since she began school and has never left. The longer she stayed the more involved she became in the Champaign Urbana art community. Lee has been involved with CUDO, Pecha Kucha, various pop up events, the CU Fab Lab, and now the Nifty Nook. Lee is also an artist and her specialty is illustration. She is the mastermind behind the children’s book Monet and the Waterlily Friends and Picasso Love’s Shapes.

The goal for Nifty Nook, as stated by Lee, is to “create a network of maker’s where we can support each other to be maximally successful”. It will also be a space for developing skills and connections. It will allow for artists that want the freedom to explore different mediums and styles to visit for various events. Lee mentioned drawing club that will be starting in the space soon.


Image: Photos of prints from EKAH and Keenan laid out along several tables, covered in black and red cloths, inside the Nifty Nook. Photo by Apolonia Wielgus

Nifty Nook does a fantastic job of cultivating an environment of local creatives, which bridges the gap between customer and maker to produce an immersive shopping experience. Typically, when purchasing goods, you do not have the opportunity to speak with the person who created the product. The events at Nifty Nook, such as their recent "Meet the Makers," allow for interaction between the vendors and clients, in which they can ask questions about the process, inspiration, and more. I am extremely excited to see what the Nifty Nook will accomplish this year.

Top image: Collection of handmade artisan goods laid out on a tablecloth including stickers, patches, and embroidery. In the upper-left corner is an octagonal shaped letter board with the words "critically enraged embroidery" laid out in plastic letters. Photo by Apolonia Wielgus