Urbana's Monument Square District grows, keeps downtown energy alive

When Amber Smith took the helm as president of the Urbana Downtown Merchants Association (UDMA) in January, she knew she wanted the positive momentum in Urbana’s Monument Square District continue.

And continue, it has. In the spring of this year six specialty retail shops have opened on the Square, as well as restaurants including Abuela’s Kitchen on the southwest corner. More businesses will soon be added to the area including a brewery, a coffee shop and a tappas restaurant.

Smith, owner of The Merchant Shops – a micro retailing collaborative – and Cober Properties, also lives in downtown Urbana.

“We live downtown, and we really love it,” says Smith. "We have three little kids … and live in a second-floor loft. We are investing in our community. We love that we have the ‘city feel' but it’s very hometown. Everyone knows each, other and it is friendly.”

Smith says there is an excitement to living downtown, and while it may not be for everyone, it does have perks.

“The tradeoff is the walkability,” she says. “It’s easier to support local businesses. It has a hometown feeling and is an authentic experience. Everything downtown is locally owned and not a ‘chain.’ People still think of downtown Urbana as just all antique stores … but now there is a big variety.”

Smith believes people are investing in downtown Urbana because they have seen work on many buildings that were neglected for so long and several rehabilitated buildings will also include housing.

“Williams Furniture will include skylight lofts, and lofts will go in above the Merchant Shops,” she says.

Past President of the UDMA, Tina Knott, owner of Let’s Eat Cake says that as her business nears its fifth year she feels blessed with continued growth and community support. Let’s Eat Cake expanded this year to include an event space. A ribbon cutting was held May 11.

“We are excited to announce the grand opening of our quaint event space connected to the bakery for special meetings and celebrations,” says Knott. “We plan to host special events, including tea parties. Our new space is perfect for bridal showers, baby showers, birthdays, luncheons and meetings.”

Knott says Let’s Eat Cake handles all of the details allowing clients to focus on guests.

“It’s exciting to see the store fronts fill with new retail opportunities including new interest in downtown revitalization projects offering trendy loft living and new restaurants,” says Knott. “While challenging, the past two years have shown us the value of spending time with family and friends and supporting local business.”

This weekend the UDMA will host “Second Saturdays” beginning at 10 a.m.

“Second Saturdays grew in awareness and attendance all least season,” says Smith. “We are hoping to build on that momentum. We were able to grow sponsorships and are looking to have three music acts at each event.”

Several food trucks will be spread throughout downtown, and the first musical act takes the stage in Legacy Park (southeast corner of the Square) at 10:30 a.m. Second Saturdays also features sidewalk vendors and often special offers and hours at more than 30 local retailers and eateries.

Smith says the UDMA likes to see people downtown and that it brings a lot of energy. The UDMA has several events planned throughout the entire year.

“We love to host shopping events, but this is a community event,” says Smith. “We want people to come downtown; people who haven’t been downtown for years and don’t know about the new activity that has come. We are trying to give the community something to do.

"The Shop Local movement has been strong, and we want to give back to the community for supporting us. We invite people to come down and visit with their neighbors and have joy walking in their community. It’s a Block Party type of feel…I think people have really missed that.”

The Urbana Downtown Merchant Group was formed about four years ago by several local Urbana businesses to collaborate on events and to provide a stronger local message. The organization's mission is to market Downtown Urbana by creating a positive retail experience.

Featured Food Trucks, May 14
Lit Litty's food trailer and Catering
Big Willies Smokehouse
Poppy's Smokehouse Catering
Wilsons Rollin Shmoke LLC
Tommy's Double Barrel BBQ

Live Music, May 14
10:30 a.m. – Larry Lyons
12 p.m. – Rob Heiliger
3 p.m. – Daniel Dye

Read more articles by Darci Jordan.