Kathy’s #Mailbag, Oct. 27, 2023

Chicago
By Chicago 19 Min Read

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All treats in this week’s Trick-or-Treat edition of Kathy’s Mailbag: Why Kaufman Lake in Champaign has multiple names … how many apartments there are in the City of Urbana … a way to sync WDWS audio with TV video for Fighting Illini volleyball … and an open dump area on the edge of town that’s caught the attention of county officials. In this week’s Now & Then feature, a look at the history of the building that houses the AMKO Asian Foods store.

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Kathy Reiser/The News-Gazette

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Mike Moran/provided

Now & Then: AMKO Asian Grocery

Most C-U residents know this building, at 101 E. Springfield Ave. in Champaign, as the AMKO Asian grocery. Their parents or grandparents may remember it as the United Auto Supply store. And before that? It was an Eisner’s grocery store, preceded by a Piggly Wiggly supermarket.

The Eisner Grocery Company started out as a wholesaler, and founder Albert Eisner Sr., owned several Piggly Wiggly franchise stores around C-U by 1920. This red-brick Piggly Wiggly, at First Street and Springfield Avenue, was purpose-built in 1940 at an estimated cost of $12,000 — not including heating, plumbing and electrical installations. “As a special feature for convenience of patrons, it will be built on the back half of the lot to permit parking space on the front half,” said an article in the Urbana Courier newspaper.

Several Piggly Wiggly locations came and went over time. Albert Eisner Jr. cut ties with Piggly Wiggly in 1951 and started operating markets under the family name at most of the same locations that had been Piggly Wiggly-branded stores. The Jewel Tea Company bought out the Eisner’s grocery chain in 1957, and the 101 E. Springfield store remained open until the end of 1959.

In 1960, United Auto Supply did some “minor remodeling” and moved into the building from its previous location on Walnut Street. The former supermarket remained an auto-parts store through the mid-1990s. City directories show that AMKO Foods, which had previously been located at 32 E. Green in Champaign, turned the building back into a grocery by 1998.

AMKO’s website harkens to the building’s earliest days: “Remember the neighborhood grocery store of your childhood? The place where everyone knew your name, where special orders were never a problem, and where you knew the food was fresh because you could see it being delivered every day?

“We specialize in a full line of high quality affordable products that will help you enjoy a delicious, healthy and balanced diet. AMKO Asian Foods provides you with the wide variety of a supermarket without the hassles of a mega-store.”

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Crime Stoppers shred event Saturday

If you’ve been patiently waiting for a community shred event, Saturday is your chance to securely dispose of no-longer-needed bills, account statements, canceled checks, tax returns and other papers that include sensitive information. Law-enforcement officials recommend secure disposal, to prevent identity thieves from using such information to commit fraud or other crimes in your name.

Champaign County Crime Stoppers president John Hecker says the group is hosting a shred event in the State Farm Center’s E-14 parking lot from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday. Triad Shredding will secure the paper until it can be shredded off-site.

While there technically is no fee to drop off up to two bankers’ boxes of paper, a $10 donation is suggested. (The event is, after all, a fundraiser for Crime Stoppers.)

Cellphone recycling also will be available for a suggested $10 donation, and local law-enforcement officers will be on hand to collect expired or unneeded prescription drugs for safe disposal.

Syncing B1G Networks with WDWS volleyball ’casts

“I subscribe to the Big Ten’s streaming video services via mobile app and Roku and would like to watch the live action while listening to the much-superior play-by-play on WDWS. Any chance of adjusting the WDWS delay so that it matches the Big 10 streaming video?”

Varsity app

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An explanation and a possible workaround from WDWS and Fighting Illini Sports Network engineer Ed Bond: “Years ago, when cable TV first started, we would delay the WDWS signal to match Comcast” or its predecessors. “Today there are hundreds of streaming services and the timing on each is different.”

Tim Ditman’s play-by-play call on WDWS is available as an audio stream via Learfield Communications. “One way to do it is to record and delay the video with a DVR and run the audio on the Varsity app from Learfield. Using the delay functions on both the DVR and Varsity app you should be able to get the timing to match up.”

(If you’re not familiar with the Varsity app, it features free, live gameday broadcasts of various sporting events from nearly 200 colleges and universities. So if Learfield has the broadcast rights for your favorite team — I mean, other than Illinois — it might be worth checking out. There’s no better way to follow your beloved UC-Irvine Anteaters or the Mastodons of Purdue Fort Wayne.)

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Kathy Reiser/The News-Gazette

Gameday parking in Lot E-15

“Last year, football season ticket holders could park in lot E-15 south of the UI law school. Now that a parking ramp/garage has been built there, the number of parking spots has increased — but they can’t be used for football parking. Why?”

While the E-15 parking area is no longer used for football season ticket holders, the UI’s interim director of parking says football fans still are welcome to park there on gamedays. Maria Starr tells us the cost is $25 per vehicle and is first-come/first-served — unless you reserve a spot ahead of time via the ParkMobile app.

Why the change? E-15 used to be a surface lot managed by the UI’s Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. But because the campus’ Parking Department funded construction of the new garage, Parking now manages both the garage and the (smaller) adjacent E-15 surface lot. And Parking officials decided to open those areas up to the general public on gamedays.

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Kathy Reiser/The News-Gazette

More pheasants at Parkland

“I was attending a cross country meet at Dodds Park and I saw a pheasant just on the edge of the prairie restoration near Parkland College. Is there a population of pheasants there?”

Troy Bruns, Parkland’s manager of buildings and grounds, said the college’s prairie restoration areas and no-mow zones “have definitely created favorable pheasant habitat, and pheasant sightings are more frequent. We honestly didn’t create those areas to specifically nurture pheasant; I would say it is more of a nice byproduct. Other wildlife such as deer, coyotes and raccoon also enjoy the habitat.”

College spokesperson Stephanie Stuart said several other bird species have been spotted on campus and in the prairie restoration area, as well. They include Cooper’s hawks, vultures, woodcocks, northern shrike (a favorite among birders) and migrating owls (seasonally). In addition, the north area of the prairie restoration seems to provide excellent habitat for owls that are native to our area.

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Alternate name for Kaufman Lake

“Apple Maps and Google Maps both identify Kaufman Lake as ‘Clear Lake.’ Has it always had two names?”

I’d never noticed that before the reader submitted this question. Sure enough, when I open Google Maps and zoom in to that part of west Champaign, the body of water is labeled Clear Lake. If I zoom in a little more, it becomes Kaufman Lake with no mention of Clear Lake. And then when I zoom in all the way, there is a Kaufman Lake label at the south end near Springfield Avenue, but a Clear Lake label over the water. Weird.

But there is a historical reason for that. Sarah Sandquist, the Champaign Park District’s executive director, passed along this information from Andrew Weiss in CPD’s planning office:

“It was a gravel pit that filled up with water when the material extraction hit the water table. U.S. Geological Survey maps dating way back indicate a gravel pit and then this feature at Kaufman Park was labeled Clear Lake. The Kaufman family owned the property and for many years it was a pay-to-fish venue with the body of water coming to be known as Kaufman’s Clear Lake.

“The existing boathouse was actually the fishing operation office. From what I’ve been told, an elusive and legendary catfish named Big Elmer was said to patrol the waters. And our former facilities supervisor, Dave Schneider — a local and avid angler who frequented Kaufman’s Clear Lake growing up — crafted the fish details that are mounted onto the vehicle access gates that Jim Gladney fabricated. One of these fish, the largest one, is Big Elmer.

“I don’t know how it all works but Google must be getting data from a variety of sources, including the Champaign County tax maps which always had it labeled as Clear Lake. In summary: Gravel Pit, Clear Lake, Kaufman’s Clear Lake, Kaufman Lake.”

Open dump sites on Bradley near Rising?

“There seems to be one or two open dump sites near homes just east of Rising Road on Bradley Avenue. Is this legal in Champaign County? These are eyesores — but even worse, they may attract rats and other pests to our neighborhood.”

Champaign County’s zoning administrator, John Hall, said county officials have done a visual inspection from the street. “These are violations, and we will be contacting the owners for clean-up.”

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ginkgo biloba

Nebraska Forest Service/courtesy

Ginkgo trees at Hidden Acres Park


“I was hiking at Hidden Acres Park in Homer and I saw a number of ginkgo trees that have been planted. Although it’s a lovely tree for the park or yard, it isn’t native to Illinois. Why did they plant those trees in the park instead of a native tree?”

Lorrie Pearson, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District’s executive director, said “yes, there are some ginkgo trees at Hidden Acres. Those were on the property when we acquired the site about 10 years ago.

“Peter Goodspeed, the Forest Preserve’s director of natural resources, indicates that while they are not native to Illinois, they are slow-growing and non-invasive. We can therefore let the trees stand where they are, allowing the public to enjoy them. But it is unlikely we would replace them with or add other ginkgo trees in the future.”

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Kathy Reiser/The News-Gazette

Apartment occupancy in C-U

“I’m curious: how many apartments are there in Champaign and Urbana, and how many are occupied?”

City building official Nick Hanson says Urbana has more than 10,000 registered rental units: 8,771 apartment units, 1,643 single-family homes, and 395 duplexes. However, the city does not track occupancy rates for them.

In Champaign, building-safety supervisor Randy Smith checked with colleagues in Planning and Neighborhood Services and found that “while the city is looking at ways to gather this information, we currently do not have it readily available. We now track the number of apartment units in new construction and those that are part of a demolition; however (we) lack the ability to track some early data.”

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Recycling plastic odds ‘n’ ends

“The recycling guide from the City of Champaign says that Plastics #1-7 can be recycled. But do the letters under the number make a difference? For example, is a berry container labeled #1 RPET recyclable?”

Nichole Millage, environmental sustainability coordinator for the City of Champaign, said the answer to this question is somewhat … complicated. She checked with staff at a local recycling plant that processes single-stream recycling, and she learned that “they are looking at shapes more so than numbers.” (Single-stream recycling allows residents to combine paper and recyclable containers in a single bin or bag; the recyclables are sorted/separated at a materials recovery facility.)

Millage said it’s not that the numbers on the container don’t matter; rather, the shape of a container is a better indicator of how challenging/costly it is to recycle. She says bottles, tubs, jugs and jars can easily be recycled.

“Many other plastics have recycling symbols/numbers on them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean (they’re) recyclable in single-stream collection. For example, berry containers are usually a #1 plastic, but they are thermoformed plastic and will melt and flow as liquid at different temperatures” than, say, a blow-molded bottle.

“The plastics mills generally don’t like them to be mixed together because of this. There are just so many variables with plastics that they prefer to stick to the basics that are known and generated widely and consistently.” So … bottles, tubs, jugs and jars.

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Pulling over for emergency vehicles

“Could someone explain the ‘rules of the road’ when it comes to pulling over and stopping for emergency vehicles when you’re on a four-lane or divided street or highway? If I’m traveling north on a divided highway, and an emergency vehicle is traveling in the southbound lanes with lights and sirens activated, am I required to pull over and stop?”

Henry Haupt, the recently retired spokesperson for the Illinois Secretary of State, said Illinois Statutes make no distinction between two-lane roads and four-lane roads – with or without a median. He referred us to (625 ILCS 5/11-907, Ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-907), which says in part:

“Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle making use of audible and visual signals meeting the requirements of this Code or a police vehicle properly and lawfully making use of an audible or visual signal: The driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way and shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the highway clear of any intersection and shall, if necessary to permit the safe passage of the emergency vehicle, stop and remain in such position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed, unless otherwise directed by a police officer.”

Illinois State Police officials declined to provide specific guidance in the context of the reader’s question. However, Trooper Jayme Bufford did offer this bit of advice: “I will say that good judgment plays a big part and each scenario is different. Driving defensively is the best way to handle that situation because you never know where and when the emergency vehicle is going to turn.”

Aha! Maybe that’s it. If an emergency vehicle is clippin’ along in the northbound lanes of a four-lane road — even one with a grass median – there’s always the possibility that it will need to turn in front of southbound traffic, or cross a grass median, to get to wherever it’s going.

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