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30 years of window dressing for Christmas

December 16, 2011
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

It's impossible to drive by McDonald Auto Supply on Washington Avenue during the Christmas season and not notice the brightly lit windows. Every year, the eye-catching displays are different, although they always exhibit the same creativity and attention to detail, along with a hopeful message for passersby.

The decorated windows which include 12 windows across the front and two on each side are the handiwork of long-time McDonald Auto Supply employee, Robin LaCross. She has worked at the auto parts store for 30 years, and for all but a couple of those years, she has designed and executed the Christmas displays.

"I used to do a big window at my mom and dad's house," said LaCross, who is a bookkeeper. "When I started working here, I thought, 'wow,' look how many windows."

Article Photos

News Photo by Diane Speer
Bookkeeper Robin LaCross adjusts the lights on this year’s Christmas display at McDonald Auto Supply, where she has decorated the windows for nearly every one of the last 30 years

Interested in art even as a young child, it didn't take LaCross long to start turning the windows into holiday statements. In the early years, she drew large-scale scenes onto paper, then enlisted the help of her co-workers to color the scenes with markers.

"We'd set up a make-shift table and the guys would help color," she said. "It was kind of a tradition opening week of deer season when it was really slow. It was a joke to see which guys probably colored outside the lines when they were in kindergarten."

Eventually the coloring gave way to using an overhead projector for recreating giant-sized letters and Christmas-related images that LaCross currently projects onto a wall, traces onto a foil-type of wrapping paper and then cuts out.

"I usually use shiny foil," she said. "The glitterier and brighter, the better. Gold, silver and red work best to pop - at least during the day."

Once her paper images are affixed to the store's windows, LaCross meticulously outlines them with strings of Christmas lights. She's always careful to space the lights the same distance apart so that the overall finished windows look uniform in appearance.

Spacing is always important so that the vertical bars in the windows don't detract from what people are seeing when they look at the display. So too is scale, so that the letters, in particular, are easily readable from the street.

LaCross uses a Publisher program on her computer to find the images and letters she thinks would adapt best and fit within the parameters of the approximately four-foot wide windows.

"I figure out what we can do and how big can we make it," she said. "It has to have impact. I like big bold things."

Sometimes she comes up with next year's plan right after the holidays are over. Other times the idea doesn't formulate until summer or even just right before it's time to actually do it. She remembers having a display all planned out ahead of time for the year 2001, but then she felt compelled to change it after the 9/11 tragedy occurred.

"The whole idea changed after 9/11," LaCross said. "It had to be about 'Peace on Earth' and a giant globe."

During the installation process, LaCross usually goes through 12 to 15 rolls of tape since every light is individually taped to the windows. She caps off the lights between letters and designs so that they don't shine through and detract from the overall display.

Though she takes charge of the project, others around the store do a lend a hand from time to time. Ordinarily she starts in mid-October determining for sure what she wants the display to look like. Cutting the letters and images out takes a couple of days as does hanging all of the foil paper patterns in the windows. Installing the lights can take the better part of a week, depending on how complicated her design is.

The lights are set on timers so that they come on at 4 a.m. for residents driving into work early. They stay on until about 9 a.m., are switched off, then turned back on for the evening hours, between 4 p.m. and midnight.

Even though her co-workers will sometimes try to talk her into also decorating for others holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving, LaCross plans to continue sticking to just Christmas. The windows are her gift to the community and something that she receives a great deal of satisfaction in providing.



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