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Store displays give a window to Christmas over the years

Published: Sunday, Nov. 28 2010 11:08 p.m. MST

The ZCMI Christmas display, a long-running Salt Lake tradition, is featured in 1916.

Utah State Historical Society

Jump back 100 years to look at Christmas shopping in Salt Lake City, and a lot sounds familiar. An article on Nov. 23, 1910, in the Salt Lake Telegram newspaper talked about "advance openings of Christmas goods" and "throngs of shoppers." There was an excess of "beautiful, useful, ornamental gifts and the usual omnipresent lines of toys for children on the market."

Even back then, there seemed to be surprise that stores already had up their Christmas displays.

Advertisements and Christmas decorations have been used to boost holiday sales for more than 100 years. Photo historian Ron Fox dug into the Deseret News photo archives, past newspapers and the Utah State Historical Society's photo collection to find examples of window displays, decorations and advertisements. A larger selection of these photographs is available by clicking the gallery at left.

In 1910, one firm used a live model in its window display to show the latest cloaks and hats. "The model walks from one end of the window to the other wearing a cloak and hat taken from the storeroom stock," the Salt Lake Telegram reported.

Over the years, decorations featured wreaths and evergreen garlands strung across Main Street. Stores proclaimed "Seasons Greetings," and huge letters on the old ZCMI store promised one year that it was "The greatest Christmas store in town" and another year, "A merrier merry Christmas."

One window display featured a huge horn of plenty piled with "useful gifts." Others had poinsettias or giant gift boxes. Advertisements tried to pull people into stores with special events. Some may have gone too far, such as a 1950 Sears ad that encouraged parents to "Bring the children — see Santa take a bath in Sears big window."

Fortunately, no photograph of Santa taking his store-window bath appears in the Deseret News archive.

e-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com

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