Deck the halls, and the windows

Holiday frills attract holiday spirit as well as customers


Michele Johnson from Michele’s Window Art, shows off miniatures of two of her window designs. Her designs are reuseable and have been perfected over the last 20 years.


It’s a scientific fact: Holiday cheer is contagious.

It’s November and sure as the days get shorter, holiday cookies, seasonal carols and excess generosity will soon lead to random smiles and induce a slow and exciting release of holiday cheer.

Some fire-roasted holiday fanatics even go out looking to be infected by this warm feeling of yuletide spirit. And you need go no farther than the local mall.

Dennis Curtis, general manager of Bellis Fair Mall, said beginning Nov. 1 three full-time employees will work during the night for two weeks to set up the mall’s Christmas tree and Santa Claus display — not to mention all the lights, ribbon and garland it takes to decorate the entire mall.

Curtis said the mall has been using the same Santa display for about seven or eight years, but it originally cost more than $60,000.

“I’ve heard of some malls paying more than $100,000,” Curtis said.

Curtis said the mall during the holidays is a special time and place for two reasons. First, November is the start of the big retail push into the holiday shopping season, which Curtis said accounts for 25 percent of the mall’s annual business.

“The reason they call the Friday after Thanksgiving ‘Black Friday’ is because that is the day most retail businesses get pushed into the black for the year,” Curtis said.

Second is the unique, once-a-year feeling you get during the holidays.

“I’m in the mall year-round and there is definitely something special about the holidays,” Curtis said. “It’s fun to see joy, excitement and spirit especially in the lives of children as they wait in line to sit with Santa.”

However, holiday spirit can’t be contained in one commercial center — it spills out onto the streets from businesses lined up to attract holiday dollars.


Quintessentially Christmas

When Michele Johnson, from Michele’s Window Art, thinks of the holidays, she can’t help but return to her youth in Vermont.

“The rolling hills covered with snow and the little house with the smoking chimney, I incorporate a lot of that into my designs,” Johnson said. “It’s almost quintessentially Christmas there.”

Twenty years ago, Johnson was fired from a job at an art supply shop just before the holidays. She soon found herself using her art skills to pay the bills painting holiday scenes on business windows.

She depicted traditional holiday scenes with her own signature swoops and embellishments. There could be a penguin on ice skates in the middle of a snowy landscape or a flashy “Feliz Navidad” adorned with holly and snowflakes.

“It turned out to be so lucrative that I just kept doing it over the years,” Johnson said.

After a few years, Johnson noticed she only had a three- to four-week period when businesses wanted holiday windows, and since each window was hand-painted in person, she could only take on so many clients per season.

Then, Johnson had the idea to paint the holiday window scenes on a large piece of vinyl that could be affixed to the window, but she later found out that no one made that type of vinyl.


‘Peel it off, roll it up and store it for next year’

Johnson went on with her life. She wrote three murder-mystery novels and actively painted for several art galleries while continuing to paint Christmas windows for the short four weeks before the holiday.

“People would always smile and say, ‘Oh, the Christmas Lady is back!” Johnson said. “People get so joyful. When I was painting them, people always used to come up and talk.”

Recently, she divorced and took a job to pay the bills, but in January this year was forced to stop working due to an injury. Her mind began to wander toward what she had done in her past that had been a success.

“Christmas windows are the most successful thing I have done,” Johnson said. “And I remembered that I wanted to make them on static-cling vinyl.”

Johnson had seen the static-cling vinyl she had envisioned years before in Taco Bells and Burger Kings. She called a sign company and immediately got hooked up with a vinyl supplier.

“What made me want to do it before was that I can do them in advance and they are removable and reuseable for the customer,” Johnson said. “They can just peel it off, roll it up and store it for next year.”

Even though Johnson said she lives Christmas all year long while painting her vinyl holiday scenes, it never gets old for her.

“I like the sensuality of painting,” Johnson said. “If I am doing fine art or painting windows, it’s still the joy of moving the brush and seeing the colors — that never gets old for me.”

However, not all of us can fabricate a whimsical holiday display with the flick of a brush. Most of us need a little help.


The holiday stage

For 30 years, Penny Beebe owned her own retail store where she would decorate for the holidays every year. It seemed that Beebe had an innate sense of how to place just the right items to make the perfect holiday display.

After she left the retail business, Beebe started a new business: Re.Fresh, a Blaine-based real estate and holiday staging company. Whether it’s to sell a house or jazz up a home or business for the holidays, Beebe specializes in knowing what to put where for maximum effect.

“A lot of people just don’t know how, and businesses don’t have the time,” Beebe said.

Beebe said she really enjoys transforming a room. She sometimes purchases new items but often works with what someone already has to create unique holiday décor.

“People have great stuff in their homes,” Beebe said. “I will work with their stuff and maybe add a few new pieces and they say, ‘Wow!’”

Every year Beebe decorates the entrance and foyer of Bellingham’s Lairmont Manor, a historical site built in the Italian Renaissance style, which has been the site of countless weddings and special events.

Beebe said she likes to change the theme every three or four years, but every year she puts up the tree and adorns the manor’s walls, eaves and banisters with ribbon, garland and twinkling lights.

She said that nice holiday decorations sprinkle holiday spirit on both employees and customers, which can make the whole holiday business experience unique and memorable.

“When you decorate, it makes people feel better and lifts their spirits,” Beebe said.


7 tips for decorating a workspace for the holidays

  1. Replace your family pictures with holiday-themed pictures. Children sitting on Santa’s lap, your dog wearing Christmas antlers, even just random holiday pictures you’ve printed off the Internet.
  2. Decorate a small Christmas tree with office supplies and place it where you normally keep your potted plants. Place a wrapped gift for each co-worker under your tree.
  3. String miniature Christmas lights along the rim of your workspace. While twinkling lights may be prettier, they might distract your co-workers and lead to a ban on cubicle decorating by the higher-ups.
  4. Play Christmas music from your computer. Many radio stations also play holiday music during office hours if you don’t want to splurge to buy your own CD. Keep the volume low so you don’t annoy your neighbors, but don’t be afraid to sing-a-long if the mood strikes you. Soon your entire office will decide to go caroling through the building.
  5. Create a faux fireplace on the workspace wall and hang stockings for everyone in the office. Throughout the season people can add little stocking stuffers for their favorite co-workers or lumps of coal for those who have been especially naughty.
  6. Fill a dish with Christmas candy. You’ll be surprised how many people find a reason to visit your workspace for a taste. Don’t forget to hang candy canes over the sides of your workspace, as well.
  7. Add sparkle with metallic garlands taped along the edges of your computer. Also, line the edges of your workspace doorway or along the top cubicle rim with garland.

Information from


Deck your halls

Michele’s Window Art, 738-7629; Prices range from $15 for small pieces to approximately $80 for full-size window scenes.

Re.Fresh, 371-7200 or e-mail at

Related Stories