Remember the great animated displays in the big store windows during the holiday season?

I always looked forward to the holiday window display at the Wolff Kubly and Hirsig store on Madison’s Capitol Square. There were animated windows in the big stores through out the state: Gimbel’s and the Boston Store in Milwaukee; H.C. Prange in Green Bay and Sheboygan and Wolff Kubly and Hirsig in Madison. The department stores in downtown Chicago went all out with an animated scene in every window of their big stores. Big crowds would gather around these windows to watch all the animated action before going in to do their holiday shopping.

Sadly these displays have faded away in recent years but you can still see two of these displays in action today if you are willing take a trip to museums in Green Bay and Sheboygan. I read all about the special displays with photos in the latest issue of “Our Wisconsin” magazine.

The Neville Public Museum in Brown County is hosting “Holiday Memories of Downtown Green Bay” now until Jan. 12. Some 7,000 to10,000 visitors enjoy it every year. It is located in downtown Green Bay.

Another Prange’s exhibit called “Holiday Memories: Season’s Greetings” is at the Sheboygan County Historial Museum in Taylor Park, Sheboygan.

Henry C. Prange founded his flagship store in Sheboygan in 1887. At its peak the company had 26 stores in three states. There were 18 stores in Wisconsin.

When our boys were young they always wanted to go to the Prange Store in East Towne before Christmas where they could talk to “Bruce the Spruce” and shop for mom’s and dad’s Christmas presents. A part of the store was sectioned off for the Children’s Only Shop. They were greeted at the door by clerks who would help the children make their gift selections, gift wrap each present, and return them to their parents waiting outside the Chidren’s Only Shop. While there they were at Prange’s they would always visit with “Bruce the Spruce,” the Christmas tree that had a volunteer hidden inside who would carry on conversations with visitors.

Let me take you on a trip down memory lane back to the early 1950s when I would go Christmas gift shopping for my family. In October to early November I would’ve saved my money and a week or two before Christmas I would usually have between $10-20 to spend on gifts for my mother and dad plus my sister and brother. I would set aside a day to accomplish my shopping and it usually took just over a half day to get it all done. I didn’t have to plan for any travel time as the shopping would all be done in two stores right near where I lived in downtown DeForest.

The first stop would be at Nordahl’s Rexall Drug Store in the 100 block of North Main Street. The building no longer stands but it was located in what is now the parking lot for Essential Family Vision Care. The drug store always carried hair care and beauty products for women and they would have extra merchandise on their shelves just before Christmas. I would carefully look over what was available and would most likely purchase perfume for both sister Jeanne and my mother. I was especially attracted to the Evening in Paris gift sets of fragrances. The fragrances came in beautiful cobalt blue bottles. I would choose one bottle for my sister and a gift set of two or three bottles for my mother.

With half of my gifts purchased I would then walk over to the Marshall Wells Hardware Store run by Glen and Gretchen Kinkle. The store was located in the 100 block of Commerce Street. There is no building there today. The location is now a parking lot next to Genesis Hair and Day Spa. Once inside the store, I would go to the sporting goods section near the front of the store and find a new fishing lure or other fishing equipment for my dad. The last gift on my list was finding just the right gift for my brother Al. Finding his gift took the most time. The toy department was a large room in the back of the store. It was packed with hundreds of toys and games. I spent a long time picking out that “just right” gift. It had to be a gift that Al would enjoy but I also wanted to pick out something that I would enjoy when he would share it with me. Quite often this ended up being a game that we could both play together.

I would take the gifts home and hide them in the closet in my room and just before Christmas I would wrap up each gift and put it under the tree to be opened on Christmas Eve.

Dick Emerson is the former publisher of the DeForest Times-Tribune.

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