NORMAL — Nikki Ellis was thrilled to see her favorite place get even better Monday — but a little scared for her wallet.
"I like everything a lot better. It's very dangerous in here," said Ellis, of Heyworth, with a laugh, while browsing Hobby Lobby's new store in Normal. "It's great to see there's so much interesting stuff."
The Oklahoma City-based seller of arts and crafts materials, party supplies, fabric and home decor items opened Monday at 306 S. Towanda Ave., just across the street from its former home at 301 S. Veterans Parkway. Both locations are in the Shoppes at College Hills.
Store Manager Dave Orzel said he was thrilled with the grand opening's turnout. Staff passed out maps of the new store with sale ads on the back and slices of cake to recognize the "Relocation Celebration."
"It's a little bit smaller in square footage than the other (building), but it's a more typical Hobby Lobby shape," said Orzel of the new space, which was a Gordmans department store from its construction in 2005 to closing in 2017. "It's a smarter use of the space. ... Things are displayed a little differently."
About 45 employees, including Orzel, moved to the new store from the old one, which still housed some fixtures Monday but was otherwise vacant. Orzel said it took about three weeks to move everything to the new store.
A crew from Prairie Signs used a lift Monday to take down the letters from the facade facing Veterans Parkway. Hobby Lobby also got new orange signs for the front of the new space and for entrances to the shopping center.
"It should be a little more eye-catching," said Orzel. "We want to make sure they know to come over here to the new location."
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M & J Wilkow, the Chicago real estate company that manages the Shoppes, is still "actively exploring a number of retail development scenarios for what is now the former Hobby Lobby site and excited about the opportunities," said Darcy Kennelly Rutzen, vice president of retail and marketing, Monday.
The previous Hobby Lobby building, a former department store, is 88,800 square feet, including 65,000 square feet of showroom space. The former Gordmans is 60,000 square feet.
"It's a little smaller, but it doesn't seem like the inventory is any less than what they had. It's just compacted a little more," said William Heck of McLean, who came to the opening with his wife, Jessica, and 9-year-old son, Ethan. "It's really nice. They've still got plenty of room."
Heck said he likes the company in part for its Christian values. Its founder and CEO, David Green, is proudly religious, and Hobby Lobby has drawn controversy for taking conservative positions, including opposing a birth-control mandate in the Affordable Care Act that was struck down in court.
Jamie Fifarek of Bloomington said she was pleased the new store has a clean look and is also somewhat similar to the previous location. She came to the store to find craft supplies and decorations for her kids' rooms.
"Usually I have three small children with me, but they're at my mom's, so I thought, 'I should go to Hobby Lobby and look around for an hour,'" she said with a laugh. "You can get lost just looking at everything. ... There's lots of beautiful artwork."
Hobby Lobby is open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed on Sunday.