Champaign Surplus leaving downtown location


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CHAMPAIGN — The sign outside Champaign Surplus on Sunday said it all: "The end of an era. We sell fun."

Owners of the outdoor retail store with Champaign roots that go back 70 years announced over the weekend that they're closing up shop — at least for now.

The doors to the downtown location were locked Sunday as staff began preparations for a liquidation sale that starts Thursday.

Starting at 9 a.m. Thursday, everything in the shop will be marked down between 20 and 50 percent off. Once the inventory has been depleted, the location will permanently close.

"It's a bummer," said Celeste James of Champaign, who was surprised to find the front door locked Sunday. "The people who work at Champaign Surplus understand the fun of outdoor activities and bring that enthusiasm to every customer they serve."

While the shop at 303 S. Neil St. will soon be no more, owners Shira and Dan Epstein promise to re-open sometime this spring at a different Champaign location, still to be announced.

Shira Epstein, who called the store her home away from home since she was 10, said the next edition of Champaign Surplus will feature a new concept that will meet the needs of today's consumers.

"Rest assured, our new store will be true to our heritage while evolving the concept of what an outdoor store can be," she said.

The weekend announcement came less than a year after Champaign Surplus initiated a new program that took the concept of price matching to the next level.

"We found that some people didn't want to ask for a price match," Shira Epstein said. "Some people felt uncomfortable with it. We thought it would be innovative to offer it up automatically."

She said Champaign Surplus gift cards will be honored at both the closing and new locations.

Dan Epstein stressed that Champaign Surplus is not going out of business, just leaving a longtime home.

"Our specific market for outdoor and travel gear, fashion apparel, outerwear and footwear is very strong," he said.

In 1947, when Leo and Anne Weisel opened what at the time was known as the Army-Navy Surplus Store, at 115 S. Neil St., soldiers were returning home from World War II.

By the time their daughter and son-in-law, Lynn and Ira Wachtel, took over the business in 1981, the shop had moved to 40 E. University Ave. A generation listened to Ira's voice in countless commercials on WDWS radio promoting Champaign Surplus.

When the University Avenue site proved to be too small to handle all the business, the couple moved Champaign Surplus to the current site in 1983. The Wachtels' daughter and son-in-law, the Epsteins, became Champaign Surplus' third generation of owners in 2010.

They rebranded the store, updated the product mix and started an e-commerce site.

In recent years, the store has emphasized outerwear, footwear, travel necessities, fashion and outdoor gear.

Shira Epstein said the new shop will retain Champaign Surplus' "special brand of the personalized, quality shopping experience."

"Our customers and local lovers of the outdoors can look forward to a cool new space, similar product mix and some innovative uses of technology to enhance our specialty outdoor products and customer service," she said.


Tim Mitchell is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@mitchell6).