Downtown Macy's keeps tradition alive with holiday window display

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In New York City, people take walking tours of the holiday department store windows, strolling from Barney's to Bergdorf Goodman to Saks and so on. Already, there are discussions on Trip Advisor about when the newest creations will be unveiled in the Big Apple.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is down to one Downtown department store valiantly keeping the tradition going, and the annual unveiling of the Macy's store windows is close at hand.

Macy's to unveil holiday windows on Light Up Night

Macy's will unveil its holiday windows on Light Up Night, but here's a preview (Video by Nate Guidry; 11/14/2012)

"Watch your step, it's a little bit of a war zone back here right now," advised Lisa Zwirn, the visual manager at the Downtown store and the person responsible this year for getting everything just right before the black fabric is pulled off the four windows along Smithfield Street being dolled up for the season.

Ms. Zwirn led a behind-the-glass tour Wednesday of the new scenes, which were created by Macy's creative director of windows, Paul Olszewski, mixing his artistic vision with the corporate to-do list and suggestions from staff in Pittsburgh, as well as feedback from local customers on past efforts.

Last year's windows, which used a modern steampunk style and involved the chain's celebrity fashion names like Ralph Lauren and Sean John, might not have been Pittsburgh customers' favorites.

"I think they wanted more tradition," said Ms. Zwirn.

This year's theme is "The Magic of Christmas," and the settings range from a nod to the retailer's "Yes, Virginia" animated special that helps support the Make-A-Wish Foundation, to re-creations of truly local scenes.

Done with "forced perspective" techniques to give a sense of greater depth, the 6-foot by 6-foot windows include animated features. A elf-shaped balloon will go up and down in one scene with a small boy watching a 1950's-style television showing the "Miracle on 34th Street" movie on a continuous loop.

In the two most Pittsburgh scenes, a skater twirls on the ice rink at PPG Place and two elegantly-attired people look around as they wait to meet someone under the historic clock that hangs from the store's Smithfield Street and Fifth Avenue corner. (That clock used to be known as the Kaufmann's clock, of course, but Macy's bought the Pittsburgh retailer's parent company several years ago).

Keeping up some local traditions in markets around the country appeals to hometown customers and it also fits with Macy's push to merchandise its stores to suit local demand.

At the Downtown Pittsburgh store, the retailer is setting up the shop that lets small children pick up presents without their parents seeing the gifts. The store also will be hosting Breakfasts with Santa on the old building's 11th floor. All the holiday efforts together draw in people, including perhaps some of those who have been trying to peek through the curtains at the window displays.

Ms. Zwirn recently started being more careful about which lights are left on inside the windows. "I turned them off yesterday because you could kind of see in at night," she said.

The sets were built in New York over the summer and delivered to Pittsburgh in late October. Last week, Mr. Olszewski was in town to tweak the displays. At this point, the carpenters still need to adjust the height to fit the openings properly. Cramped space between the sets and the wall that backs the department store's jewelry section still holds boxes of ornaments and lights, as well as a maze of electrical chords that crisscross the floor and wrap around the plywood backs of the sets. The official window unveiling is set for Friday at 6:45 p.m., as part of the Light Up Night activities.

Once the last lights and ornaments are in place, the staff will seal off the area and generally stay out until Jan 7., when the windows will make the switch from the holidays and return to their job of showing off merchandise sold inside the store.

Even if Pittsburgh doesn't have enough traditional department stores to set up a window tour, there are a lot of other holiday doings to draw people into the city center. And Macy's could see a few more of those visitors since it will be a stop this year for the free Holly Trolley that gives rides around Downtown during the holidays.

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Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018. First Published November 15, 2012 5:00 AM


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