Ellicott City's windows of wonder

Holiday hoopla on display

Merchants pull out cake-cutting Elvis, mechanized Santa and other festive trappings in window-decorating contest

December 05, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With traditional trees and wreaths, motorized Santas and Elvis cutting a cake, Ellicott City's historic district is embracing the festive and the funky in order to attract visitors - particularly shoppers - to town.

The merriment is being fueled by two efforts this week: the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation's second annual window-decorating contest and the 30th Midnight Madness celebration Friday night.

"Our goal is to get people to come to Ellicott City," said Edward Lilley, a spokesman for the nonprofit Restoration Foundation. "We want to give people another reason to come."

Many merchants in the historic district already were showing some holiday flair in their windows to attract customers, Lilley said, so last year the foundation started its contest to "give them the opportunity to add an extra edge, to go a little bit over the top if they want to."

The town has had window contests, but the foundation's version includes a winner that will be chosen Saturday afternoon by a panel of judges, and a people's choice winner determined by ballots submitted through Monday and announced Tuesday. The judges' selection will get advertising in Maryland Life Magazine, courtesy of Howard County Tourism Inc., and the people's choice winner will receive an ad in the Ellicott City Visitors Guide, courtesy of Patuxent Publishing.

Karen Besson, owner of the Art & Artisan gallery on Main Street, said the contest "spurs you on to get busy and have fun with [your decorating], to make it as good as you can make it."

Besson's display is mostly located on the wide brick sill outside her store window and features potted evergreens decorated with red sequined balls, shiny beads, velvet flowers and feathers.

"I like to have fun and go a little wacky," Besson said.

Antiques dealer Carmen Cook won last year's contest with several moving characters, including a motorized Santa Claus, in her window of Taylor's Antique Mall.

This year, she kept her display similar. "The children get so much pleasure out of it," she said. Plus, she added: "It is someone else's turn to win."

Many shops are using their windows to show off their merchandise.

In the windows of the Yuppy Puppy Pet Boutique, plush dogs and cats model Christmas pet fashions - including a black lace party dress and a knit Santa suit - among stockings, snowflakes and a decorative border of fake snow. One window features a Hanukkah theme in blue and white.

"We think the flashing doghouse is an added effect," said Holly Hoenes, the shop's owner, gesturing to the structure adorned with Christmas lights outside the door. "We started to talk about [the window design] a year ago," she said. "People think it is absolutely adorable."

Cottage Antiques, which was last year's people's choice winner, has a window full of antique holiday items, including wooden carolers, a 4-foot-tall Santa and a Christmas tree.

"We always try to gear it toward children," said Lee Doll, a sales associate, "because that's what Christmas is really about - children."

Store employee Rick Schwedes, who has decorated Baltimore department store windows, "is very competitive about the window," Doll said. "But it is not 100 percent about that. It's part of how we like to celebrate the season. ... We just hope it makes up part of a wonderful, old-time holiday spirit for everyone."

Ellicott City merchants are planning to embrace the spirit Friday night with music, food, a parade and a midnight closing time for most stores, - all part of Midnight Madness.

The parade will kick off at 7:15 p.m. at Ellicott Mills Drive and Main Street and travel down Main before ending at Maryland Avenue. This year, Santa and Mrs. Claus will ride in a sleigh custom-built by the Ellicott City Volunteer Fire Department.

Santa will visit with people at the B&O Railroad Station Museum, which is open for the night along with the Ellicott City Fire Museum and the Thomas Isaac Log Cabin. Santa also will appear at the B&O museum from noon to 3 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 23.

Another star - an Elvis Presley impersonator sponsored by Sweet Cascades - will be cutting a 30th-anniversary cake at 8 p.m. at Fishers Bakery.

Entertainment will include wandering madrigals, jazz and other music, bagpipes and a walking Christmas tree.

"We're doing a lot of oddball things, as usual," said Barry Gibson, chairman of the Ellicott City Business Association's Midnight Madness Committee. Gibson said the event "has grown every year. It's unbelievable. People come from everywhere."

Ballots for the people's choice window award are available at Howard County Tourism and at participating stores. Information on Midnight Madness: www.ellicottcity.net/events or 410-313-1900.

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