The waifish brunette in Richard Mare’s window display harkens back to a nostalgic New York City season. A croissant in one hand, coffee in another, the red-lipped mannequin is a dead ringer for Holly Golightly.
Mare made the black, floor-length satin sheath dress himself in an afternoon’s time. He put the mannequin in elbow-length black gloves, a multi-stringed pearl necklace, diamond earrings, a tiara and sunglasses. The only thing she’s missing are the thick eyebrows of Audrey Hepburn.
For the owner of Downtown Designs on Jay Street, there’s only one thing more iconic than a Christmas tree during the holiday season: the opening scene of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
“One of the big things for me during the holiday season is Christmas in the city,” said Mare. “I always try to get into the city for at least a few days, because it kind of doesn’t seem like Christmas unless I go around and see the window displays and all of that regular touristy stuff.”
Bergdorf Goodman’s is a favorite of his — this year, their store window features mannequins dressed as flapper musicians in homage to “The Great Gatsby.”
They may not be as elaborate as New York City’s department store windows this time of year, but local shop owners display a charm all their own when deciding how to design their storefront windows for the holiday season.
On the other side of Mare’s store is a display lined with white lights and black garland, featuring items you might see for sale at Downtown Designs — wine glasses filled with pearls, a white sequined clutch and a masquerade-style lace eye mask. A black shoe with a kitten heel sits on a black sequined pillow next to a pearl-strung black Christmas tree.
“I try to do traditional New York-style windows,” said Mare. “Bergdorf’s is always a big inspiration for me. So I always try to push the envelope and do that one extra step and apply a little bit of a theme.”
Perhaps it’s his background in costume design and long-ago experience setting up holiday displays for a national retailer that gives him an edge.
His fellow Jay Street shop owners take note.
“He’s really the best window person around here,” said Jill Alois of Vintage Art, next door. “He’s always changing his storefronts, too.”
Alois runs the antique shop with her mother, Edith, who designs the window displays. With Edith out Friday, Jill described the method behind her designs as a mix of cozy and eclectic.
“She tries to demonstrate the eclectic items we have here,” she said. “And this time of year we just make it seasonal. Christmas is just gaudier.
“Lots more sparkles,” she added with a laugh.
Her storefront features the unique offerings of Vintage Art — a cherry desk hutch, an 1800s Victorian settee and matching chair, a Duncan Phyfe mahogany coffee table, antique silver tray and Victorian figurine. The holiday touches include a hot pink Christmas tree, Santa figurine, a collection of Snowbabies figurines and lots of white lights.
The Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. runs an annual window contest during the holiday season, asking residents and shoppers to vote for their favorite festive displays at participating locations or the DSIC office at 143 State St. Shops along North Broadway and Jay, State, Union and Clinton streets are participating this year.
“What shines through is the creativity of our business owners down here, because a lot of these windows are a nice indication of what you’re going to find inside the shop,” said DSIC Executive Director Jim Salengo.
Saratoga Springs has several ornate holiday window displays that cause pedestrians to stop and snap a picture as well.
Linda Ambrosino recalled leafing through a children’s version of the Robert Frost poem “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” and being inspired to transform the window of her toy store into a white winter wonderland.
The G. Willikers Toy Store on Broadway features large white reindeer that move every so often on a remote timer, causing children to jump in delight (or fright). It has jackrabbits and white foxes, pine cones and silver garland. It has an ice skater spinning on a little pond, a big red antique metal sleigh being pulled by a horse and white snowy owls on white frosted trees.
“I’ve had people this year take pictures in front of my windows and use them in Christmas cards,” said Ambrosino. “Two Friday nights ago I was here working and a bride and groom pulled up with their whole wedding party to take pictures.”
Ambrosino has gone all out on her storefronts during the holiday season for 26 years now, in part because of the fond Christmastime memories of her childhood.
“Downtowns were the heart of the town, and one of the things you could do as a child, no matter how much money you had, you could walk downtown and look at these wonderful Christmas windows at the department stores,” she said. “It’s part of celebrating the season.”