Remembering the era of display windows

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 18, 2005

One of the nearly forgotten phases of life several decades ago is based on display windows.

Partial proof of this, and certainly prime examples, can be seen with the four photos used with the Lifestyles articles in the Jan. 9 and 16 issues of

the Tribune. These photos were of the four window displays at the Interstate Power Co. building during 1950 and maybe 1951. Those special displays featured products made in Albert Lea by Rilco, Scotsman, Olson Mfg. Co. and Munsingwear.

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I do have a question for the folks with long memories. Were there more than those four windows in a series of displays with the theme of locally made products?

Also, the 1940 photo of the F.W. Woolworth Co. store in the Jan. 30 issue certainly emphasized how

the front windows of a business could effectively advertise both seasonal merchandise and special sales items available for the consumers. These windows were like invitations to &uot;come on in and shop.&uot;

There are several reasons for the window displays being an interesting part of life years ago. For one thing, business firms were centralized in one area of a community. There was more pedestrian traffic and what could be called &uot;window shoppers.&uot; Then there was the competition factor. Who could have the best window display on Broadway to attract attention and bring customers into a particular store?

Some of those local window displays were real works of originality. The displays were often changed to provide some variety and to emphasize logical shopping seasons. Special displays were created for Valentine’s Day, Easter, summer vacation time, the Fourth of July, back to school (a real biggie), maybe Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas for sure, and seasonal men’s and women’s fashions and trends.

One profession which seems to have faded away through the years is based on the folks who created those window displays.

One person who was involved with creating local window displays was Irv Sorenson. I recently received a narrative from Mike Kruse of Church Offset Printing in which Irv describes this part of his life here in Albert Lea.

&uot;(In early 1942) Alfred Skinner called and offered me a job as displayman at Skinner Chamberlain Department Store (then on South Broadway). … His displayman was leaving within a few days for military service. After quick instruction on how to assemble the one and only plaster female dummy (mannequin), I was on my own. Now Skinners had two dummies (his words, not mine).

&uot;I applied myself

the best I could and received many favorable comments on my window displays and newspaper ads. I designed and supervised the modernizing of the entire store..&uot;

Irv became a part of the Tribune’s ad department in 1948. The following year he created the illustrated feature, &uot;Hi-Lites and Shadows,&uot; which became a very popular weekly feature in the Tribune for 15 years.

In later years Irv worked in an artistic capacity for Ad-Art, Universal Milking Machine Division, National Cooperatives and the Church firm.

With that sidebar taken care of, let’s go back to the window display topic.

There are several reasons why window displays have declined through the years. One has to be the creation of what have been called the &uot;big box stores&uot; and shopping malls. Another is the increased usage of &uot;in-store&uot; seasonal displays.

And still another reason which may have been overlooked during the past several decades is the trend away from large exterior windows to somewhat smaller energy efficient windows. A prime local example is certainly the Interstate windows of 1950 as compared with the

present ones at the Alliant Energy building.

There’s one more aspect of window displays worth mentioning. For many years the store owners and managers have let the 4-H clubs, school groups and others use the front windows to set up special displays to promote their activities.