URBANA — Brian Behrns plans to open an all-vegan restaurant in downtown Urbana this spring.
Behrns, who moved from California to the Champaign-Urbana area in 2004, said he hopes to open the Dancing Dog Eatery & Juicery at 126 W. Main St. in about three months.
"We'll be 100 percent vegan, and according to our research, the first all-vegan restaurant in this whole area," said Behrns.
"We know we're going to be at the very fringe of what's more popular in this town, but I think there's a big enough population that we're going to do well," he said.
The Dancing Dog is one of several new businesses that have chosen to make downtown Urbana their home.
— In February, a dance club, the A-Plus VIP Lounge, is expected to open at 214 W. Main St., in the space once occupied by The Office bar and the V. Picasso restaurant and lounge.
— Plus, work is under way on a new restaurant in the former Morning Cup & More space at 202 N. Race St., U.
— On Main Street, Priceless Books is moving one space west of its longtime home, and Heel To Toe hopes to expand into the vacated Priceless Books space in order to enlarge the New Balance store.
— Champaign Cycle recently announced it will open a second store at 110 S. Race St., and at least a half-dozen other businesses have opened in downtown Urbana in the past six months.
"A lot of it stems from the city of Urbana pushing to get all these spaces filled," said Cynthia Johnson, executive director of the Urbana Business Association.
"There's been so much growth, it's caught the attention of other people and drawn them to an area where they might not have looked otherwise," she said.
Brandon Boys, the city's economic development coordinator, credits the surge to an improvement in the general economy and to the city's incentive programs.
"This crop of new businesses are generally younger people and entrepreneurs," Boys said.
He said numerous startups came "out of the woodwork" when their business risks were lowered and affordable space became available.
Behrns, the Dancing Dog proprietor, said downtown Urbana seemed ripe for an all-vegan restaurant, given the proximity of yoga studios, a fitness center, Common Ground Food Co-op and Strawberry Fields.
Dancing Dog plans to be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, he said. Customers will be able to get freshly squeezed juices and smoothies, as well as some gluten-free pastries.
"We plan to appeal not just to vegans and vegetarians. We'll be mimicking popular dishes by making them vegan," he said, citing meatball subs, Reuben sandwiches and French dip sandwiches as examples.
Behrns said he and his wife, Linda Lehovec, a dance professor at the University of Illinois, have been vegans the last five years and vegetarians before that.
But it hasn't been easy to eat out and find food that fits their diet "unless you go and order pasta with tomatoes, basil and garlic," he said.
The Dancing Dog name stems from Linda's vocation and from the couple's four dogs, he added.
Among the other new developments:
A-Plus VIP Lounge will open to the public on Valentine's Day, said Jun Feng Ma, one of the partners in the dance club.
The nightclub will be open from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week, with jazz and slower music played during the early hours and hiphop music after 11 p.m., said Helen Zhang, another partner.
A-Plus has been decorated with black-and-gold wallpaper and customized paintings and furnished with dark purple sofas and chairs, Zhang said.
Champagne and cocktails will be served, and the menu will include some traditional bar food, Asian-style desserts, cheesecakes and Mochi ice cream, she added.
Priceless Books is expected to reopen in its new location Friday or Saturday, said Mike Vaillancourt, a partner in the business.
"The new space is a little bit smaller, so we have to get rid of a little stock," said Vaillancourt, who opened the shop with Bill Thornhill in May 1993. "We're trying to keep it as much like the other store as possible."
Heel To Toe hopes to expand into the old Priceless Books space and enlarge the area devoted to its New Balance store, said Heel To Toe CEO Will Martens.
This would be Heel To Toe's third expansion in downtown Urbana. It moved to 106 W. Main Street in 1988 and expanded first to 104 W. Main and then to 108 W. Main.
"Every eight to 10 years, we run out of room," Martens said.
New Balance has become a bigger company in recent years, adding several new brands, he said.
"It's becoming so big, we don't have room to display everything," he said. Plus, the business needs more storage space.
Martens said the business carries shoes for diabetics and others with specific fitting needs. The newest expansion would give it more space for patient rooms and possibly a gait analysis lab, Martens said.
The Stephens Building at 218 W. Main St. was recently purchased by Norman and Carolyn Baxley, in partnership with David and Lynn Borchers. They and are planning to renovate the upstairs for five or six apartments.
Norman Baxley said the 11,000 square feet on the main floor would be ripe for a restaurant or bar.
"Given the nature of the Victorian downtown, food and beverage seems to be the most logical use of these spaces," he said. "Any retail use would have to be a specialty kind of retail."
Elsewhere, Matt Cho, who developed the Cafeteria & Company and [co][lab] spaces at 206 and 208 W. Main St., is redeveloping the floor above 208 W. Main as office space, Boys said.
Even though the number of vacancies is low in downtown Urbana, Boys said he still receives inquiries about available space on a regular basis. He said he has referred three different parties to the now-vacant Quizno's space at the Schnucks plaza on the east side of downtown.
The influx of businesses has contributed to a sharp uptick in membership in the Urbana Business Association, Johnson said.
"Over the last year, we've had a 36 percent increase in membership," she said. "That's pretty substantial, and a lot of that is directly related to all the new businesses coming into town."
New developments in downtown Urbana
— Vegan restaurant. Dancing Dog Eatery & Juicery to open later this year in former Primelight Studio space at 126 W. Main St., U.
— New restaurant on North Race. To occupy the former Morning Cup & More space on first floor of Stratford apartment building at 202 N. Race St.
— Dance club. A-Plus VIP Lounge plans soft opening this month and grand opening in February at 214 W. Race St., former home of The Office bar and V. Picasso.
— Bookstore move. Priceless Books is moving one space west, from 108/12 W. Main St. to former Heartland Gallery space at 112 W. Main St.
— More shoes. Heel to Toe hopes to expand its New Balance shoe store into space being vacated by Priceless Books.