COLUMBIA — The Living Windows Holiday Festival will transform downtown into a winter wonderland — and thanks to some timely weather, it should even look the part.
The festival runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday and features live performances in retailers’ windows. Sixteen stores will participate this year with themes that include “Walkin’ Talkin’ Christmas Tree,” “Stuff your Stockings” and “Christmas in Times Square.”
Barbara McCormick of Poppy on Broadway said merchants spend months writing scripts, making costumes and props, and constructing sets for their performances. McCormick said the hard work is worthwhile because it helps the businesses get to know the people of Columbia better.
“Every single person in the store can get involved,” she said. “We put our heart, soul and creative energy into it, and it usually results in a lot of laughs.”
Although the live performances are the main attraction, there are a number of other activities at the festival. For those who want to stay toasty, many businesses offer open houses featuring holiday music, carolers, treats and refreshments. The more daring can brave the cold with a free carriage ride through downtown. Hungry festivalgoers can roast chestnuts at Broadway and Ninth Street, and children can visit Santa Claus at First National Bank. There will also be wine tasting, a live nativity scene, gift bags from Columbia Home Magazine and a live KPLA/101.5 FM broadcast from Village Wine & Cheese.
Jeannie Buckman, owner of Merle Norman Cosmetics Studio, said that while shopping is important, the main reason she participates in Living Windows has more to do with holiday spirit than spending.
“It’s fun. It’s for the kids, it’s for the people, it’s to bring them downtown and let them see that downtown is vibrant,” she said. “We’re still alive, we’re still doing business, and we’re still enjoying people.”
Stephanie LaHue, merchandising manager for My Secret Garden, has participated in Living Windows since it began.
LaHue also teaches visual merchandising at the Stephens College School of Design and Fashion. Students from her class are responsible for creating many of the windows for the festival.
“I always encourage my students to not only do something in the window but also to bring it out on the sidewalk and kind of make it a little more interactive so the people that are walking by really feel connected.”
This year, Stephens College students are creating window displays for Village Wine & Cheese, My Secret Garden, Kayotea, The Butterfly Tattoo, Calhoun’s and Manhattan Closet.
“One of the tasks that I put to the students when they’re deciding what to do for a living window is that it somehow coordinate with the theme of the store that they’re doing it in,” LaHue said.
Buckman said that the festival is designed to celebrate the holiday season but promoting holiday shopping is a major objective for downtown merchants. LaHue said getting people to spend money downtown is important.
“It’s probably one of the most successful festivals we have for the District, and it brings a lot of people down here that usually don’t come to the District to shop,” she said. “Hopefully the main goal is to get them to shop but also to look at the District as a fun, family-oriented, wonderful place, unique to other cities.”