The “official” holiday shopping season begins this week (unless you’re one of those over achievers who has already begun), and hopefully this guide will help you navigate your options here in C-U and surrounding areas.

Truth is, holiday shopping can be quite stressful, especially if you’re a person who wants to be able to give thoughtful gifts to the people in your life. Stores are busy, people are rushed — it can make you a bit bah humbug about the whole thing.

Well, we would like to do our darndest to make the process a little less painless for you. Heck, maybe we can even bring some fun to your experience. At the very least, should you go with some of our suggestions, you can rest in the knowledge that you are supporting local businesses. This is by no means exhaustive, but will hopefully get you started. 

When you don’t want to give “stuff”

Every year when the holiday frenzy is over, I take a look at what we’ve accumulated and feel overwhelmed. And yes, I know that this is person of privilege problem to have, but I don’t think that I’m alone. Honestly, I would love to just cut out the trading back and forth of money between family members and focus on the “let’s spend time together and eat good food.” But alas, we are caught up in this cycle. Here are a few ways to at least do your part to lessen the “stuff” factor.

Don’t buy, donate...

Take the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, and in the work of important organizations in our community. Everyone has a cause or an issue that they are passionate about, so consider giving some cash in your loved one’s name to a non-profit that they love. Now, this won’t work for everyone on your list. I’m not sure your 9 year old niece would appreciate a note saying you made a donation rather than a present to rip open. But this is a great thing for those people on your list who are impossible to buy for, mostly because they truly don’t need anything. So use that money to help fund the local arts through 40 North, support local public television at WILL, “adopt-a-family” through Courage Connection and make someone’s holiday a bit brighter, or help local families become homeowners by donating to Habitat for Humanity.

Here are some other local organizations out there doing good things: The UP Center, Planned Parenthood, R.A.C.E.S., Three Spinners, Feeding Our Kids, Wesley Food Pantry, The Land Connection, Champaign County Forest Preserve District, Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, to name a few. (JM)

Photo by Jess Hammie

Share some of your favorite eats and drinks...

We have a great many quality establishments here in C-U, so why not encourage your local friends and family to enjoy them. Dining out gets expensive, so most folks are quite appreciative of a gift card to their favorite restaurant. There’s something for every budget out there: perhaps Miga or Nando if you want to be a bit fancy, Farren’s (they did earn our top burger ranking after all) or Maize if you want to go more casual, or maybe give someone a reason to try out the new(ish) Pekara if they haven’t yet. If someone who’s moved away is missing C-U, sending a frozen Papa Del’s pizza is a great gift.

Pour Bros. has a deal going on where for every $50 you spend on gift cards, you get another $10 for yourself. I suggest you swing by there today, as they are tapping this year’s Bourbon County Stout (as well as last year’s). This release comes out every year at this time, and Pour Bros. is really the best place to try it, as I find it nearly impossible to drink an entire bottle of the stuff. Just a few ounces are perfect.

And hey, make sure if you’re dining out this holiday season, be kind to the busy wait staff and tip generously.

Other places I like to eat and drink: Seven SaintsCafé KopiKohinoorThe Bread Company, Timpone’s, Courier CaféBlack Dog Smoke & Ale Houseto name a few. (JM)

Photo by Kwamé Nyerere Thomas

Give experiences…

I always feel fortunate to live in a community that, while not a booming metropolis, has some really wonderful opportunities for cultural experiences. You can really get creative with giving when you start to explore what C-U has to offer. Go the artsy route and purchase tickets for a performance at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, The Virginia, or Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts (if you're willing to venture a bit down the road), or perhaps provide a membership to Krannert Art Museum (check out the perks of that here). 

For the freelancers/enterprenuers/remote workers in your life, how about a Workplace or Kids Camp membership from Lodgic Everyday Community? They’ve got multiple plans to choose from — you can learn about those here.

Another great option? A gift card to C-U Adventures in Time & Space. They are about to open some new games in their expanded location, and this is seriously one of the most fun things I’ve done here in C-U. I've gone with adults, and I've taken a bunch of 11 year old boys, and every experience has been exciting and challenging. (JM)

Photo from Facebook

I've become very excited by the idea of StayCation lately, simply because with two young kids, it's sort of the best you can get without hurting yourself or your pocket book. Staying just out of town in a place like Allerton Park, and using the time to really soak up the majesty of the space, is about one of the best gifts you could give anyone around these parts.

The lodging at Allerton Park is a bit dated, but that's sort of the idea. You really feel like you've departed, and it's just a 30 minute drive away. Your recipient might not get it initially, but once they use it, and commit to the experience, it's a lot more meaningful than a simple day trip over to Piatt County. (SF)

Don’t forget about: Champaign Park District, Urbana Park District, Parkland Planetarium, Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, State Farm Center, The Art Theater.

Sometimes you gotta give stuff…

Photo by Sam Logan

Go with a theme…

I love to give people a present with lots of little things, that all tie together in some way. It gives you a bit of challenge, and you can really have some fun with it. Art Mart is definitely a great place to do this...whether you are buying for a foodie, a wine lover, a prolific cook or baker, or want to do a little pampering with self-care products and candles. If you want to go more worldly with it, maybe do Ten Thousand Villages. Everything is fair trade and your purchases support the artisans who made them. Plus it’s just such a cozy and wonderful store to shop in.

Coffee and tea are easy themes to organize around, and thankfully we have some great local options. Both Columbia Street Roastery and Walnut Street Tea Co. offer a large selection of not just the coffees and teas but all the accessories you might need to accompany them. Or, pick up some Page Roasting Co. beans at Common Ground, and supplement them with some organic treats. Maybe tuck a few books from Jane Addams or Orphans Treasure Box in there for good measure.

Then of course, you surely have an Illini fan on your list, even though it’s hard to be one of those at times, so head to Illini Union Bookstore to find all the Illini things. (JM)

Everyone needs clothes….

Photo by Julie McClure

Look, I'm buying for a teen and pre-teen who have their brand favorites, so I will have to invest some money and energy into shopping at certain national retail establishments. But, that does not mean that won't I do a little local apparel shopping. Champaign Outdoors (the store formerly known as Champaign Surplus) opened a beautiful new store on South Neil where you can get items for the outdoorsy folk in your life. Hit up their outlet Rugged Outdoors next door to get great deals on items from previous seasons. If you're looking for more of a boutique feel, do some browsing at Circles or Fira

If you want to go really local, check out Mrs. Emily. You can find her full selection of items online, and it's all cute and somewhat whimsical and she is literally making these things in her house in Champaign. You can get a sneak peek at her skirt pop-up at Hopscotch this weekend. (JM)

Photo from Facebook

Is there anyone sweeter and more awesome and badass than Sally Mundy, the propreitor of Rumours in Midtown Champaign? The answer is no, there isn't, but that isn't the only reason you should consider buying a stylish lid for a loved one this year.

A good hat brings purpose to an outfit, and sets a tone for a person as to how they wish to be seen. For those who collect and adore them, and for those who don't know they need one yet, this is a really really lovely gift to offer someone you care for. 

Jos Kuhn and Co. in Downtown Champaign is about the last place in the world you can still get fitted for a suit by a man who literally appears to have already died. The place is fully stuck in time. It has not been updated, or even considers the world around it. One time I went in there, and asked how much a particular suit was, and the old dude working there just looked up from his paper, lit a cigarette and said to me "Certainly not as much as it's going to cost us to send a fucking man to the moon. I swear, ever since Eisenhower left office, this country has been completely fucking worthless!"

Anyhow, you can buy a suit there. Just be prepared to deal with stuff like that. The fella who manages the place is kind of the worst person in town, but the owner is Dr. Youngerman, and he’s kept the place going and family owned for like 350 years, at least. (SF)

Don’t miss these shopping experiences....

Photo from Facebook

These go beyond just your typical day of shopping. Last year I paid a visit to Mottainai, the annual shopping bazaar hosted by Japan House, and it truly was an experience. Sample tea and Japanese treats while you browse the unique collection of treasures. You’ll find both new items and gently used items that have been donated by folks in the community. Your purchases will be supporting Japan House, which is awesome of course. Similarly, the Mistletoe Market, Old Town Market, and Goat Photo Booth and Holiday Market at Prairie Fruits Farm are great ways to shop several local vendors all at once. Plus there are goats (well, just at that last one). (JM)

Don’t forget about these…

Photo by Jess Hammie

Head over to Fleurish for host/hostess gifts or some decoration for your own space. Sarah and her crew are great at pulling together just what you need, at just the right price for you, and she’s got traditional stuff as well as stuff that’s a bit funkier.

I am not crafty, and do not patience for projects. However, I’m sure there are many of you out there who are and do. Handmade gifts are personal and really show someone that you are thinking about them. It’s also a great way to get kids involved. The Idea Store just moved into its expansive new location and it’s a really fun store to explore pull together items for a project. Bonus, you are reusing items and supporting a non-profit organization. (JM)

Photo by Eric Frahm

This year, 40 North awarded Exile on Main St. with a Business Award for 14 years of service and commitment to Champaign-Urbana. This holiday season, consider how vital they are to the community fabric. Between them, and their partners in the space, Dandelion, there is literally no retail shop in town with more cultural relevance and importance than this one. The good news is that it's looking like it's going to be here for years to come, but now is the time for all of us to step up and keep supporting it so that the stores are healthy and solvent each and every year.

After all, Jeff is the type of person who will stock the vinyl release of "Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas" and Sarah is the type of person who will sell you the sweetest pleather jacket in the world for like... $20 or something ridiculous.

So, in the end, you could just buy everything for everyone you want at this one spot, and make a lot of people happy, and keep local businesses thriving, even as Jeff Bezos has eclipsed $100B in wealth, for ever, most likely. (SF)

This year's shopping guide was compiled by Julie McClure and Seth Fein.

Top photo by Melinda Miller