More than window dressing

Cool display windows are going out of style downtown, but Southwest businesses are using them to thrive

The first thing you see when approaching a storefront is the window display. The emphasis on window presentation varies from store to store, but many local business owners said their windows reflect the store's essence and can increase sales.

Rick Haase co-owns Patina, at 5001 Bryant Ave., 1009 Franklin Ave. W. and 2305 18th Ave. N.E. Patina specializes in a wide variety of home accessories, jewelry and gift items, and Haase said his window displays are extremely important to his business: "It's the first impression that you're making on your customers. They favorably impact our sales."

Merry Beck, owner of Gallery 360, 3011 50th St., said she also gets a lot of positive feedback on her window displays, because they prominently showcase her emphasis on local artists.

"These windows are small installations for the artists," she said. "They send a message to support local artists."

Pam Angier, owner of Up a Creek, 4251 Nicollet Ave. S., which features gift items and beads, said she doesn't spend as much time on her window displays as she'd like, but as storefront marketing, displays are an easy way to bring in business.

"Customers said that it sucked them into the shop," she said.

Choosing what goes in

Haase said deciding what goes in the window display involves strategy, not just a concentration on new products. "We talk about a theme for the window and build it around that theme," he said.

Buyers for Patina search retail markets nationwide for products, Haase said, and from those hunts, themes for window displays emerge.

Katie McKinney, head of visual display for Patina's Franklin Avenue store, said she often divides featured products into groups by season, style and color.

McKinney said although the displays are always different, there are common themes. "There's always a lot of light and lamps," she said.

The lamps usually complement the seasonal foliage in each window showcase, McKinney said.

Despite some staples, however, uniqueness is important, she said. "We try to make sure there's never anything the same," McKinney said.

She said she enjoys the design freedom available with a smaller neighborhood shop like Patina, since many downtown corporate retailers have de-emphasized window designs. "It's a lot of fun," McKinney said. "We have a lot more freedom."

Angier takes a completely different approach. She said she has no method for deciding what goes into her window case. "I like to use unusual pieces that are quirky," she said.

Sometimes, Angier said, the process of designing a window display is purely trial and error. "I play around with things and if I like how it looks, that's how it stays," she said.

No matter what the design, Angier said the one constant in her window display is "Buster." She said she bought the large Buster Brown doll from a woman in Excelsior, who had said he'd been sitting in her storefront for over 30 years. Angier said she adapts Buster's attire to the season and is always thinking of new ways to incorporate him into the window scene.

Beck said deciding what goes in her storefront really depends on what's going on with the gallery. "Sometimes it's random, and sometimes it's from the artists in the back gallery," she said.

The window installations, Beck said, are a preview of the art showcased inside. She said the windows give people a sense of what the show is like and also get the artist's name out there -- their names are always featured in vinyl prominently affixed on each window's base.

Changing the display

To McKinney, constantly changing the window set-up is a must, because the set up is shoppable -- customers can take right from the display. "I go through every morning and make sure nothing's sold out of the window display," she said.

McKinney said a complete overhaul happens about every month, to keep up with the seasons and the new merchandise.

Haase said the seasonal aspect is important, because that's what people will buy for. Starting in September, Haase said the seasonal focus of displays was on fall and Halloween. But as soon as Halloween is over, Christmas dominates, he said.

Angier said she only changes her window set-up about four times a year. "Once I get it how I like it, I tend to leave it," she said.

With her window display designs, Angier said she tries to do what she does at home, displaying things that she likes.

Angier said store patrons have given her positive feedback about various window displays over the years. "If it looks interesting you'll catch people's eye," she said.

Haase said because of his stores' neighborhood locations and heavy drive-by traffic, the shoppable window displays are the best use of the space. "Our windows are a fairly accurate picture of what we have in the store," he said.

McKinney said the window displays give the store a chance to draw attention to specific items. "It's kind of like a showcase of stuff we're particularly proud of and excited about," she said.