Listen to this article

Questions about this move? Urbana? Local business? 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."