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The Once and Future Campus Town



I grew up and live in Champaign-Urbana, IL, a nifty little college town. Having been here for (ahem) some time, I've watched the community grow and prosper. Most of the changes have been for the best, although change is often defined subjectively. One of the areas about to undergo a somewhat major overhaul is the campus town district. Many college communities have a campus town, an area close to the university full of shops and cafes, where students and townies alike can meet up for food, friends and fun. The changes coming to our own said area include several new high-rise (for C-U) buildings, parking garages, retail spots and hotels.

An employee at the university here, driving in to work this morning I became wistful while gazing upon the campus town landscape and skyline, all the while thinking of the aforementioned changes, and how things used to be. In truth, campus town here in C-U used to be more, well, grungy. And I mean that in the most affectionate way possible. Perhaps "organic" would be a better term? More of the buildings were older, looking their age but not dilapidated, and the businesses within their walls were a little less... trendy than they are today. They were commercial, while not appearing overly-glossy.

Back in the day, you could walk down Green St. without being in the direct shadow of any structure taller than 3 or 4 floors. There was the beat-up old Burger King (where a 24-floor high rise now stands). I remember hanging out there late into the nights as a teenager, with a crowd made up of folks who were into The Crow movies, Beck, Anime and giving themselves nicknames such as "Ice." Best not to ask about that last one. Or, sometimes, we'd hang at the IHOP (still there), the Garcia's Pizza place (recently demolished), or, even further back, the old Steak 'n Shake (long gone).

You could walk along Green St. (which runs through the heart of campus town, in case you didn't already know, or couldn't guess) and stop in at the White Horse Inn, if you were old enough, or catch a movie at the Coed Cinema. I remember meeting a friend there, Susan, whom I had a crush on. She wanted to see Mel Gibson's Hamlet. I wasn't quite old enough to get in on my own, but she assured me it would be fine, and it was. No carding occurred. Alas, the Coed is now an apartment building.

Further down on Green you could hop into the Space Port arcade and play video games to your heart's (or pocketbook's) content. Next door was not one, but two record stores: Streetside Records and Record Service. I spent many an hour, and dollar, in both shops. Above Record Service was Figaro's, which specialized in selling classical music. Imagine that now: a store on campus where you can buy classical music.

Of course I welcome the coming changes to campus town. Let there be no mistake about it. Always been a fan of taller structures, infill development and greater population density, so those are things to look forward to. It will change the look and feel of campus town, certainly, but then I'm not naive enough to think that the campus town I remember (and have just described in this post) was the original version. Of course it wasn't. Communities change. It is the way of things.

But it's OK to be a little nostalgic about how it used to be, right?


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