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Acworth shop's window displays hold on to holiday traditions

Christmas window displays were once a big deal during the holiday season.

In some cities, the elaborate Christmas themed displays that take over storefront windows after Thanksgiving are still a holiday tradition, but in metro-Atlanta, it has become a lost art.

Rich's, the local family owned department store, was purchased by Federated in 1976. By the early 1990s, the animated window displays which featured ringing bells and violin playing angels had disappeared from the flagship store in downtown Atlanta.

"I miss the Christmas traditions. When Rich's left, a lot of that left with it," said Lisa Welty. So Welty and Karen Bennett, owners of Woodstock Market, decided to bring some of that Christmas magic to Acworth.

For the past four years, they have dedicated the four 15-foot high storefront windows to holiday displays with themes ranging from Candyland to this year's The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Their handcrafted windows have been ranked alongside heavyweights like Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus by VMSD (Visual Merchandising Store Design) magazine .

Woodstock Market is a 50,000-square-foot shop that rents space to vendors including crafters, jewelry designers, decorators, artists and others who sell vintage, new, handcrafted and repurposed furniture and goods. Many of the dealers chip in to help create the window displays.

Last year, a small design tweak the made a huge difference. Welty, Bennett and Cecile Steinway -- a market dealer who serves as lead designer for the windows -- along with a team of helpers and volunteers, built wooden boxes, 4.5 feet deep and 15 feet tall, to contain the displays.

The change helped block visual clutter in the background and used forced perspective to enhance the appearance of the displays. The bright colors of the characters popped, the animations were sharper and locals began showing up just to see the windows.

"Even though we are not Rich's or Macy's, it is nice to see families come out and make it a tradition," said Welty.

As soon as one display has been completed for the season, they begin tossing around ideas for the next year. This year, contenders included a Jetsons Christmas and Christmas around the world, but ultimately the Grinch won out.

They created mock ups of the boxes then scaled them to fit each window. A market dealer cut sheets of foam into flat shapes that would become the Grinch and residents of Whoville. Steinway did the detailed painting, while Bennett worked on the motion and lighting.

The story of the Grinch is told in the four windows -- an angry-looking Grinch with a tiny beating heart in front of Whoville's ringing bells, the Grinch stealing gifts from the living room of Cindy Lou Who, a group of Whoville residents holding hands while spinning and singing and a large stocking shaped sleigh full of gifts steered by a big-hearted smiling Grinch. This year, families can also tune in to 98.7 while viewing the windows to hear the full story and music of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

The project takes almost three months working five hours per day and costs an average of $15,000. In the final days, it becomes a 24/7 effort to prep for the big reveal. Even with so much time and effort, things don't always go as planned for the self-taught window designers on a small budget.

This year, the train running through the Who living room has a mind of its own, randomly stopping and starting. The animated beating heart of the Grinch sometimes stops beating. Whenever something stops working, Bennett hurries to fix it.

"The last thing you want is for the train not to be working for the kids," Bennett said.

Welty and Bennett hope in the future to expand their Christmas attractions to the garden space outdoors. And already, they are thinking about next year. Some display possibilities include The Christmas Story and Twas' the Night Before Christmas.

"We really hope our Christmas windows become a holiday tradition for families in our community.  It's our way of saying "thank you" and hopefully spreading a little holiday cheer," said Welty.

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.