Stopping By: Two area vineyards offer more than just wine

If you're looking to do some effective Christmas shopping without the annual trudge to standard stores, two local wineries give you a unique gift selection and a a pleasant, away-from-it-all experience.

Driving the winding roads to both Oakwood's Sleepy Creek Vineyards and Champaign's Alto Vineyards, I realized even getting to these places is a calming exercise during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

Champaign council seeks to ease rules on electronic signs

CHAMPAIGN – When First Federal Savings Bank bought a new electronic sign several months ago, it was with the idea of letting the public know about the bank's different products, or to post occasional pro-Illini messages.

"It gives us a chance to share our message with the community," said George Rouse, president of the bank, whose main office – and the new sign – is at 1311 S. Neil St.

But First Federal and three other businesses on South Neil Street – McDonald's, Walgreens and Culver's – were dismayed to learn this summer that the city's zoning ordinance allows on-premise electronic signs to change their image or message only once every 15 minutes.

Danville's unemployment rate tops 10 percent in November

Danville's unemployment rate jumped to more than 10 percent in November, the Illinois Department of Employment Security reported.

The city's rate rose from 9.5 percent in October to 10.4 percent last month. A year earlier, the November unemployment rate stood at just 6.9 percent.

Great Impasta to reopen in former Milo's location in February

URBANA – The Great Impasta, set to serve its last meal in downtown Champaign on New Year's Eve, will reopen at the end of January at Urbana's Lincoln Square Village.

Owner Harold Allston said he'll be moving the 25-year-old Great Impasta into the space formerly occupied by Milo's Restaurant, which moved to southeast Urbana.

Tips to help make your holiday spirits greener this year

Household waste increases by more than 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, according to

Paxton man's dual stairway wins DeWalt carpentry contest

PAXTON – Stan Foster of Paxton has won DeWalt's Top Finish Carpenter Award after a dual stairway he built was chosen the top project in a competition that attracted more than 150 entrants.

As a result, Foster will receive $34,272 in prizes, including a table saw, air compressor, speed-belt sander and planer, plus Carharrtt clothing and tickets and pit passes to a NASCAR race.

Hobbico cutting 37 positions

CHAMPAIGN – Hobbico is cutting 37 full- and part-time positions in Champaign as a result of the economic downturn.

The distributor of radio-controlled airplanes, helicopters and other hobby products confirmed the cuts Thursday and said it's reducing seasonal help as well.

The company, based at 1608 Interstate Drive, C, employs about 650 people. It's the world's largest wholesale and retail distributor of radio-controlled airplanes, helicopters, boats, cars and accessories as well as general hobby products.

Demolition of law office awaits insurer's approval

CHAMPAIGN – The city has filed a lawsuit seeking the repair or demolition of 215 N. Neil St., which was damaged by a Nov. 7 downtown fire.

Meanwhile, one of the owners of the building, attorney Richard Joy, said this week his firm has obtained bids from demolition companies and hired a general contractor to oversee the demolition process, but is still awaiting the final go-ahead from its insurer.

Commentary adds magic to pithy 'Tales of Beedle the Bard'

J.K. Rowling's "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" is packaged perfectly for holiday snacking. The slim collection – anchored by five fairy tales – relies on magic, of course, to convey its message. It was referenced in the final Harry Potter installment, much like "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and "Quidditch Through the Ages" were mentioned in earlier Potter books.

Depending on your reading pace, this book is a very, very short read (111 pages). I felt almost jilted when I noticed each page's huge margins, though the feeling was remedied by the well-known fact that Rowling and American publisher Scholastic are donating the net proceeds from this endeavor to the Children's High Level Group, a children's rights organization co-founded by Rowling.

First Busey executive mixed on Rantoul's economic picture

RANTOUL – An area banker painted a mixed portrait of Rantoul's economy Wednesday.

On the plus side, retail sales are growing, the value of taxable property is on the rise and agricultural production increased this year in the Rantoul area, according to Ed Scharlau, vice chairman of First Busey Corp.