Window Dressing

Retailers used to rely on window dressing to lure customers into their stores.

Retailers used to rely on window dressing to lure customers into their stores.

When I was small, Lisbon Street in Lewiston was a retail shopper’s paradise. Driving through downtown Lewiston today reveals a shabbiness and lack of any retail options I’m interested in. There are a handful of eateries, but mostly storefronts with dirty windows.

Maine’s major cities all had functional downtowns; Augusta, Portland, Bangor, Waterville, Biddeford. Most are now a shell of their former glory. Retail has all moved out to the mall, or big-box complexes that ring Maine’s population centers.

I was fascinated by the large display windows that many of these shops had. Downtown Lewiston’s department stores like Peck’s, or Woolworth’s, all had large windows bordering the sidewalk, and shoppers would peer in through the glass (usually cleaned daily) at the various displays. Peck’s is now a call center, and Woolworth’s is but a memory. Long gone are Ward Brothers, Kresge’s, and Spark’s Department store.

Postcard of Main Street in Lewiston, circa 1940s.

Postcard of Main Street in Lewiston, circa 1940s.

These windows were designed and oriented with mannequins and other displays with the intent purpose of drawing you into their establishment. Putting a window display together featuring merchandise was called “window dressing.”

Window dressing is now a figure of speech, usually meant in terms of making a more favorable expression. It’s also a term that might tilt towards shady practices and fudging numbers. Like the following definition from Investopedia:

A strategy used by mutual fund and portfolio managers near the year or quarter end to improve the appearance of the portfolio/fund performance before presenting it to clients or shareholders. To window dress, the fund manager will sell stocks with large losses and purchase high flying stocks near the end of the quarter. These securities are then reported as part of the fund’s holdings.

So much of what frames success and life in these United States is filled with the latter. Some might refer to it as “smoke and mirrors.” The perpetrators of this false window dressing are “empty suits.” They usually occupy positions of power and prestige. 

It’s a practice that’s built on deception and hucksterism and the hustling keeps on keeping on.

3 thoughts on “Window Dressing

  1. Sigh…a topic that is near and dear to my heart and yet I have to go off to my “hustling.” Do I begin my comments at the existential level or the “window dressing” level? It’s very “American” to jump to conclusions and solutions, so I’ll avoid that and just stew in the topic a little. Eloquent and provocative post.

  2. In my distant childhood memories, I remember an early December trip down Lisbon Street in Lewiston, cars parked diagonally, new snow, and lights, lights lights! But it’s only a few years from this ancient memory to the Zayre’s mall, and its rival, the Bradlee’s mall, and their acres upon acres of parking. And only a decade, really, to the Auburn Mall (ooh, ahh!), and remember how the Maine Mall in Portland was trumpeted as the be-all, end-all. Now all that farmland in Auburn is paved under for a half-dozen big boxes, and is anyone’s life any better for it?

    How easily that stretch of lower Main Street could have been turned into something graceful and lovely, flowing down to the river, even with cars. Lisbon Street, meanwhile, just gets scarier and scarier.

    The photo is lovely, I should go to Shorpy and see whether that was Macy’s or somesuch, but at the same time, it’s deceptive. Life was better when we only consumed dark wood interiors, gramophones, multi-band radios, the right lamps and wall hangings. It’s still the gospel of consumerism, just a quaint version.

    • There are those in Lewiston that subscribe to a vision that’s not all big-box and sprawl-y. Eric Agren opened Fuel on Lisbon Street, and also Marché across the street. He and his wife have moved downtown, as have a number of others. I find the efforts with Museum L/A, and the Franco-American Heritage Center promising. However, there are still too many that drive in for work, and drive out, and don’t care at all about downtown. And then, there’s the “development mafia” element that came up a post or two ago.

      This is probably similar in many of the other communities I ticked off.

      I’m not sure we can ever completely divorce ourselves from consumerism. It’s in our DNA (and possibly the water). I guess I’d opt for a solution that considered production in terms of matching output with real need. Products that are produced should be made as durable as possible, and we should always take into consideration the cost to society of the production. Finally, we need to be aware of the costs of production and the irreversible harm it causes to the planet. Planned obsolescence isn’t a great way to build sustainable communities.

      I think local means of production might work, but what would that look like? Are we even capable of making things anymore? We are so wedded to trucking everything from such great distances that I think it makes our brains hurt to think alternatively about how we obtain our goods and what our means of production might look like in an alternative landscape, especially one quite local.

      I’ll keep it simple and think about it in terms of food. Local production is happening and it’s growing. That’s a start.

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