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The inevitability of change in Champaign-Urbana

Nostalgia weakens when physical spaces change. How do we remember our beloved Campustown?

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The Daily Illini

Take a close look at the cover photo of this post. What do you see?

Just to the right of the Wright Street sign is a Panda Express occupying the same spot where Follett’s Bookstore used to be. From 1962 until 2013, Follett’s stood at the primary intersection of campus-life in Champaign-Urbana on Wright Street and Green Street. Now it’s a two-story Panda Express.

I felt deep sadness when I returned to campus in Spring 2014 and saw a Panda where Follett’s used to be — and this coming from someone who loves Panda Express. I’m the only person in my family to have gone to U of I, but most of my college friends and colleagues have siblings, parents and grandparents who all went to school in Champaign-Urbana.

The idea that generations within the same family can shop for something as simple as textbooks at the same store decades later is by definition ‘living history’. It can be a thread that weaves together college stories and love for a place that means so much to so many people.

Change is inevitable. Reasons why Follett’s closed down make a ton of business sense. With students able to purchase textbooks online and with so many materials downloadable to laptops and tablets, having such a big store for textbooks is an antiquated waste of space. The same also applies — but less so — to apparel and other merchandise.

Follett’s Bookstore wasn’t and isn’t the only victim of change in Campustown. Another campus staple, KAM’s is also moving. KAM’s changed ownership late last summer, and the bar just across the road from the main quad is moving all of the way to First Street and Daniel and will part of a much bigger residential and retail complex. KAM’s as we know it will cease to exist.

Never mind the fact that KAM’s has 2 stars on Yelp, or that the floor is just as sticky after it’s cleaned as it was before it was cleaned — is it ever even cleaned? No one really cares, because it’s KAM’s, and similar to Follett’s Bookstore, KAM’s is a place where generations of Illini fans have spent money as a community, together.

Nearby bars C.O. Daniels (long gone), Firehaus and The Clybourne (Cly’s) have been closed, too.

This bit of news really upset me even more than the closures of Follett’s or KAM’s or the surrounding bars: The Espresso Royale on the corner of Sixth and Daniel, in that space since 1991, will close May 17. Per the linked article by Smile Politely, “a new development” in that spot will be completed in 2.5 years. (Editor’s Note: That’s likely to be another high-rise apartment complex, part of the same reason KAM’s is moving.)

Though not nearly as old as Follett’s and KAM’s, that Espresso Royale was part of the fabric of my college experience at U of I. I walked by it every single day from my campus residence to the quad for my classes. I met friends and classmates there to study in the basement over a cup of coffee or a Yerba Matte Tea. From hours spent on Chaucer to Milton to Shakespeare, to reviewing ATMS 100 slideshows on hurricanes and tornadoes, Espresso Royale was that cozy refuge away from the libraries and the Union. I bet thousands can relate to my experience at that particular Espresso Royale in the nearly 30 years it’s been open.

Watch this video that was posted by U of I’s Twitter account last month. It’s well done and if you haven’t been to Champaign in years, this might freak you out a little bit:

In my four years as a student (2007-11) two large high-rise apartment buildings went up: 309 East Green Street and Burnham 310. They are modern, luxurious structures that dominate the Campustown skyline. Since 2011, several more have been built and even more are on the way in the next two-to-five years.

Champaign is growing. Champaign is changing. The small-ish, quaint midwest utopia so many of us think of when we remember our time in Champaign is working its way toward being a booming metropolis in the center of the state.

Good and bad exists in this gentrification and modernization. It can be startling if you return to campus without expecting these changes.

How should you feel about this?

Sad? Angry? Ambivalent?

As far as the new high-rise residences are concerned, clearly those are needed to house incoming students as well as a growing work-force. People are coming far and wide, all across the globe to not just study and get degrees from U of I, but to stay in Champaign County and work. The surrounding area has world-class facilities for research and agricultural advancement, and those breakthroughs are improving the lives of people everywhere — not just in Illinois. These structures are going up because there is a need.

Surroundings change, but the core of the University of Illinois does not and will not.

U of I’s quad in the Fall. There’s nothing like it.
The Black Sheep

I fell in love with U of I when I first visited in Fall 2005 when I was an out-of-state junior in high school. After asking some strangers who were tailgating for the Penn State/Illinois game that day (don’t look at the box score from the game, please) for some directions on how to get to the main quad, I took a stroll through campus I’ll never forget. My eyes were never bigger and brighter than when I first laid eyes on the most beautiful plot of land in the world — the University of Illinois’ quad. I felt it then and I still feel it now when I approach the quad from any direction.

A lot has changed since I graduated in 2011. A lot will change for the Class of 2019 now that they’ve graduated and when they return to campus in five years, 10 years and 20 years from now. Campustown will change, but the heart and soul of the University is there and will last a lifetime.

Savor those memories, Class of 2019.

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