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In A World Beholden To Online Shopping, NYC's Department Store Windows Reign Supreme

Few cities beat New York City when it comes to window-shopping, especially during the holiday season. The city’s holiday window displays have attracted thousands for over a century. Though nowadays, marketing extends far beyond the confines of the real world with social media getting so much attention, the Manhattan holiday window decorations are still hard to beat.

This year, Macy’s will feature Santa and polar bears at its flagship store, while the other major department store in the city, Bloomingdale’s, will showcase a Grinch-themed display. Meanwhile, Saks Fifth Avenue, has Theater of Dreams design, Bergdorf Goodman presents a candy wonderland, Henri Bendel, which will soon close, has paid tribute to NYC with a skyscraper theme, and Barneys New York has chosen the charity Save the Children as its inspiration.

Next year, a few other players may join the fray, including Neiman Marcus, which will open a new store in the city, and Nordstrom, which has plans for a new flagship store. The Lord & Taylor flagship store, which has had displays since it opened in 1914, is closing so they’ve simply chosen to advertise that “everything must go.” Experts blame the closure of many classic stores like Sears and Bon-Ton on e-commerce and discount retailers.

The first window displays popped up at Macy’s in the 1800s. After 1900, the competition for the best window displays was fierce. Nowadays, stores have to be more creative to attract consumers, by featuring crossover partnerships and extensive advertising campaigns. Before Thanksgiving, Bloomingdale’s revealed its display by having violinist Lindsey Stirling perform on a sidewalk stage painted in green Grinch art.

“Christmas in New York has its own special magic to it,” Stirling said. “It’s because of these things like the store windows. It feels almost timeless.”

Bloomingdale’s Chief Executive Officer Tony Spring, who attended the event with top executives, said that the displays extend to social media as shoppers share selfies of the window displays. “They know what they already want digitally,” Spring said. “They’re looking for inspiration when they come physically.”

Saks Fifth Avenue featured a Broadway show, lights on all 10 stories and fireworks. The show, which was sponsored by Mastercard, was live-streamed and attracted numerous celebrities.

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At Bergdorf, which went with a Candy Land theme, roughly 1 million pieces of candy are displayed in the windows. David Hoey, who manages the store’s visual presentations and has worked on window displays for the past for 22 years, spends roughly 70 percent of his annual resources on the holiday displays.

“If you’re in the display business, you’re in the surprise business,” Hoey said. “I’m already thinking about what I want to do next year.”

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