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Department stores created Christmas magic in windows

The sight of falling snow caught my eye Thursday night. I saw the small, powdery flakes coming down in Corydon last week while walking down the sidewalk to attend a meeting. The sight of it caused me to stop in my tracks.
Ah, the magic of window displays. This particular one is at Town Square Gallery, on the corner of Capitol Avenue and Beaver Street. Besides the occasional snowflakes, there is a decorated Christmas tree that revolves, and many stuffed animals have been placed throughout the fallen snow. A box at the top of the window releases the simulated snow.
A couple of stores down, also in The Emporium building, another window caught my eye. The Christmas Goose has four animated objects: a Nutcracker, an angel and two elves.
The displays did two things for me that night.
First, they reminded me that Christmas is quickly approaching and that we need to get prepared for the holidays.
Second, the magic of what I saw triggered fond childhood memories. I recalled how my sister and I would bundle up at least once every holiday season and our parents would drive us to Indianapolis, about 25 miles from our home in Clayton, to look at the elaborate window displays in the downtown department stores.
It didn’t matter if we went on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, the sidewalks were crowded with families that had come to look at these visual delights provided by the stores.
There was Wassons, on the northwest corner of Washington and Meridian streets, with a few displays. Across the way, on the southwest corner of the intersection, was L.S. Ayres, which always had really nice displays. But my family’s favorites were at William H. Block, at the intersection of Illinois and Market streets. Besides having the best, Block’s almost always had the largest window display, too.
‘They were always so animated,’ recalled my mother, Jean Weber, when I asked her about the displays. ‘I loved them! We could have spent hours looking at them.’
Unfortunately, everyone else wanted to see them, too.
Children crowded around the large windows, usually near the doors, to get a close-up look of all there was to see.
The displays usually had a theme, with each window serving as a page of a storybook. A common setting was Santa’s workshop, with elves busy making toys. Usually, an elf or two had gotten into some mischief.
Some windows had an outdoor theme, such as an ice-covered pond complete with skaters and people warming themselves around a fire.
‘The windows were so clever,’ Mom said.
Parents lifted their children up to smaller windows further down the sidewalk from the main entrance to get a glimpse of equally fascinating, miniature displays.
For a quick warm-up, families ducked inside the stores before going back out in the brisk air to peek at the displays one more time.
There was so much to see that one could not possibly see everything.
‘Everyone left there having seen something that the rest of us didn’t notice,’ my mother said.
But, most good things must come to an end. Shopping malls sprang up on the outskirts of town, and the window displays became a thing of the past. Wassons was one of the first department stores to go out of business downtown. Block’s followed soon after. Last to leave was Ayres, which closed its doors in 1991. They had stopped decorating their windows a few years before.
Today, children are treated to cute displays at the malls. I’m sure children love them as much as I loved the window displays from my youth. One nice thing about today’s displays, even though they aren’t as detailed as the ones done by the department stores, is you don’t freeze while looking at them!

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