by Ruth Leopold
Sometimes when I pass by the window displays of our Carolina Meadows Gift Shop, I’m tempted to break into song. (To the tune of “How Much is that Doggy in the Window” – “How much is that necklace in the window,/ And the cute purse that’s on the same shelf?/ I see a great gadget for my nephew,/ And goodies galore for myself!”)
Out of respect for others (and fear of funny looks), I don’t sing. But the windows always, always have some alluring item that catches my eye. “Who,” I’ve wondered, “is the talent behind all this enticement?” The answer is Susan Durfee who has been running the retail side of the gift shop and designing its windows for seven years.
Susan came to Carolina Meadows with a background in Clothing and Textile Merchandising. At age 40 she began her professional art career. She thus developed a fine eye for color, balance and variety, all valuable components in window display. To keep Carolina Meadows residents intrigued by the gift shop windows, Susan sees that displays change an average of three times per month. (That’s a lot of window dressing.) She also makes sure that there are no gaps in the display if an item in the window is sold. A new necklace artfully fills the space left when a snazzy clutch purse has been sold. A silken scarf replaces a blouse, and on it goes.
Susan uses the yearly round of seasonal changes and holidays to determine each window’s theme and color scheme. Fall brings rich greens, golds and oranges to the forefront with scarves, handbags and bracelets all reflecting these colors. As Halloween and Thanksgiving approach, some porcelain pumpkins, placemats shaped like autumn leaves, and some cornucopia might appear. Winter holidays see an influx of reds and white accented with sparkles of silver. Santa figurines and some champagne flutes which Susan has unearthed from a local thrift store add to the festive scene. So, the seasons pass, with the gift shop windows presenting an ever-changing kaleidoscope reflecting the community around us.
The windows have undergone extensive changes over the years. Seven years ago the windows were filled with stuffed animals for kiddies and tchotchkes for hostess gifts. The animals weren’t a big seller because the grandchildren of Carolina Meadows residents tended to be too old for little plush critters. And most residents already had an abundance of knickknacks. There were lots of useful items in the gift shop itself (stamps, hearing aid batteries, greeting cards), but the windows needed other items to lure in passing Carolina Meadows residents. Susan and other gift shop volunteers decided to begin buying clothes, blouses and pretty sweaters, fashion watches and unusual pins. They moved into the boutique end of retailing and the reward has been an upsurge in sales.
Three times a year, volunteers visit the gift shows at the Greensboro convention center. They spread out to cover a huge selection of items, buying fresh supplies of seasonal fashions, items for the home (knife sharpeners, compact flashlights, graspers for reaching items on high shelves) and one-of-a-kind items like hand painted hors d’oeuvre plates. Right now, the gift shop is stocking some higher end jewelry. Eva Morganson (who teaches jewelry design at Carolina Meadows) is showing her line of necklaces which features semi-precious stones.
Obviously a lot of thought and planning goes into the arrangement of the gift shop windows. The items in the windows have to look good both from outside and inside the shop. The size, heft and impact of each object must be considered lest the windows look top heavy, too crowded or too sparse. The windows must look fresh, month after month, must be pretty, intriguing and enticing.
All this is quite a challenge for Susan and the rest of our gift shop volunteers. However, judging by the comments I hear from window shoppers, they are succeeding beautifully.
Shopper 1 “Oooh! Look at that vest. That’s new.”
Shopper 2 ” I love the colors.”
Shopper 1 “I’m getting it. It’ll go perfectly with the new slacks I just bought.”
And two more customers walk into the shop.