Art Mart move a 'leap of faith'

Art Mart move a 'leap of faith'

Questions about this move? Urbana? Local business? Send 'em to Tom Kacich here and he'll chase down an answer

Thirty-seven years after moving into Lincoln Square in Urbana, Art Mart will soon have a new home — at 1705 S. Prospect Ave. in Champaign.

"It's been a long time that we've wanted our own space, our own standalone building," said Brian McKay, who co-owns the 57-year-old store along with wife Courtney.

The new location, in the former Carter's Interiors building, encompasses 14,000 square feet. That's 4,000 more than Art Mart's current home and will accommodate more inventory and services, the McKays say.

"It's going to allow us to do things that we've wanted to do but haven't had the space for," said Linda Ballard, who owned Art Mart with her sister, Carol Ann Hurt, before passing it on to daughter Courtney and her husband. Ballard still plays a role in Art Mart's operations.

Added Courtney: "We're keeping everything that we have now, but we'll really be expanding on the offerings."

Among the changes planned:

— There will be a wine tasting area run by Todd Fusco, who currently manages the store's wine department.

— There will also be a larger selection of cheeses, and a focus on offering more grab-and-go foods such as salads and sandwiches.

— Kaya Tate from Hopscotch: Cakes and Confections will have a bakery case at the new location, and owners hope to work with businesses like Mirabelle Fine Pastries to potentially create a store-within-a-store concept.

— The toy store will have more activities, including pajama parties, reading and knitting clubs, daily crafts and storytelling.

— Some renovations will be made to the building to accommodate Art Mart's plans and design. A few walls will be taken down to open up the space inside, and the main entrance will be moved to the south side of the building. In addition, the parking lot will be expanded from 11 spaces to over 40.

— A commercial kitchen will be added, as well as a bakery and a cafe designed to seat 49 people.

"But for the most part, we're going to try to retain the intimacy of the little areas," Courtney McKay said.

"The space is going to be a little bit more cohesive. Being able to start from almost a blank slate, I think we're really going to be able to do some neat new things."

With the expansion comes a need for more employees. Courtney McKay said the store will probably double the number of employees it has now.

Mall: 'We'll rebound'

Art Mart opened for business in 1958 on First and Healey streets, then moved to Green Street. In 1978, it set up shop in Lincoln Square, adding a food store three years later, then a toy store in 1995, Courtney McKay said.

The owners believe the new location will be convenient for people from all of Champaign-Urbana and surrounding areas.

"If we were going to move anywhere, we wanted to maintain a neighborhood feel, and this is I think as close as we're gonna get to that," Courtney McKay said.

But they are aware of potential backlash that will come from some community members over Art Mart's move from Urbana to Champaign.

"I hope that people are more about small businesses instead of being focused on 'why are you moving?' I hope they are supportive of all small businesses, whether in Champaign or Urbana," she said.

As for the store's soon-to-be-vacancy in Lincoln Square, mall owner Jim Webster said it was difficult to hear the news of Art Mart's departure, but he wishes them well.

"We'll rebound. We will find something to replace them, but certainly it won't be easy," Webster said. "It's a never-ending challenge, and you just keep fighting."

Move: 'It is a leap of faith'

The McKays said they are grateful for the support Lincoln Square has given them over the years, and that they've had many great years in that location.

"We've had a lot of history here. We have a lot of people that come here every day, and of course we'll miss the farmers' market," Courtney McKay said. "But ultimately, we have to make a business decision. And this is best for the business in order for us to kind of grow and be able to offer new things."

Renovations to Art Mart's new location will begin in the next couple of weeks.

"As far as a target open date, we don't really have one just yet," Brian McKay said. "We really won't know that for probably another month."

The McKays first looked at the space in August. But they'd been eyeing the building for a long time, with hopes of one day moving to South Prospect.

"It is a leap of faith, but we feel it's important for the long run," Courtney McKay said. "Not just two or five years from now, but 20 years from now. That's pretty much what our decision was based on is evolving and seeing not just next year, but in 20 years, what we'd like Art Mart to be."

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787 wrote on June 10, 2015 at 7:06 am

Another business getting out of Urbana, and getting away from the failures of Laurel Prussing.

Janet wrote on June 10, 2015 at 8:06 am

I might be in the minority here, but fighting the farmer's market traffic on Saturday morning to get to Art Mart has been a deterrent for me.  I am completely excited about this and the location is awesome and bikeable. Makes up for the crappy choice for the new co-op. Still will go to Urbana for that.

lcoil79 wrote on June 10, 2015 at 10:06 am

And just where did this story say that they were leaving due to Urbana's policies and failed MFL Prussing?  You must have seen a different story that I did.  The stated reason for needing more space than is available in LS is in itself a valid reason to move, especially if something better is available with better traffic and accessibility.

Not to say that I don't agree with you on the standing of MFL Prussing and how she's damaging the city of Urbana with her policies, vendettas, and bad choices.  I just find it quite a leap to declare that she is the reason Art Mart is leaving LS for greener and healthier pastures.

rainy84 wrote on June 10, 2015 at 11:06 am

A small, local business growing and adding new jobs. Fantastic! Best wishes to the McKays. I look forward to patronizing the new location.

chief21 wrote on June 10, 2015 at 11:06 am

Musta got their property tax bill from Urbana.
 Hey, why not stick around....when the Lincoln Hotel opens in 2029, there should be a lot more customers.

Lostinspace wrote on June 10, 2015 at 2:06 pm

A welcome move.  Very handy location for south-west folks.  Healthy competition for Sunsingers.  Not a lot of parking.

Chambanacitizen wrote on June 11, 2015 at 8:06 am

Awesome news!  I visit Art Mart frequently, as I work in Urbana.  However, I'd rather see them in the new spot, as Lincoln Square is just dead except for the Co-op and the fitness center.  And if it weren't for those two, I'd only come to Urbana for work.  A much better spot for us to get to the store, and a more welcoming enviroment to hang out, I'm sure.   

I'm also sure the bike riders, hippies, and other Urbana natives will be very upset, but business is business.  The move is for the benefit of the business and both communities.  It is just too bad they couldn't be near the awesome spot for the downtown Champaign Co-op coming next year. That entire building and area is local businesses...but downtown Champaign isn't exactly hurting for business or people hanging out.

I would wish Art Mart luck, but they aren't going to need it. Great move!

champaign61821 wrote on June 11, 2015 at 10:06 am

News-Gazette, can you find more details about how they are going to add 4 times more parking? Where will that go? The side street is a residential street and it's next to a church.

Laura C wrote on June 11, 2015 at 1:06 pm

So very nice to see that Art Mart continues to thrive!  And congrats on what will be a wonderful new location.  Decades ago I worked at the U of I in the School of Architecture and Art Mart was our shopping outlet of choice.  Then when my husband and I married we already knew Carol and chose to use their pastries for our wedding brunch.  Our favorites were the mini croissants in both chocolate and apricot.  Everyone loved them and I can still taste them after all these years.  Ahhh, the memories.  Thanks for that, Art Mart, and I wish you every success for the future!

bluesky wrote on June 11, 2015 at 6:06 pm

I'll miss them in their old location - and Lincoln Square will really miss them - but it will be exciting to see what they can do in a larger space.  And it certainly makes sense for the business.  I remember when they were on Green Street, selling Indian print bedspreads and candles.  Times change and we all have to roll with them.  Good luck, Art Mart, I'll be following you across town.