SIDNEY – Juanita McCrum spends the entire year thinking about how she’s going to decorate her storefront’s windows, an annual tradition that started with the last Christmas she celebrated with her husband.
Ron McCrum first proposed the idea of animatronic Christmas decorations at Ron & Nita’s shoe and clothing store. He was inspired by the Christmas displays from the former Rike’s department store in downtown Dayton, his hometown.
“In ‘95, that Christmas, he said, ‘I wish we could do animated windows,’” Juanita said. “’That would be so neat if we could do windows like Rike’s used to do.’”
The following February, the couple visited Frankenmuth, Michigan, and purchased the first pieces for their window displays.
“We were only going to have five trees. Before we got 3 foot or 4 foot back in the window, we’d already used those five trees, and we needed more,” Juanita said with a laugh. “And we continued to buy trees. We’d go buy trees, go buy trees, go buy trees until we had the window full of trees. We had a forest, and he loved it. But that’s the only one he got to see because he died the next year.”
Even though he’s gone, Ron’s vision for a Christmas wonderland in downtown Sidney has become a fixture of the holiday season, becoming a larger and more elaborate spectacle over the years.
Every year Juanita creates a new scene with themes including Santa’s workshop, Santa’s barn, Santa’s post office, Mrs. Claus’ kitchen, Rockefeller Center at Christmas, an old-fashioned living room at Christmas, children playing in the park, a carnival, Hansel and Gretel, and “101 Dalmatians.”
The first 10 years of window decorations at Ron & Nita’s always featured a forest motif, and Juanita’s collection grew to include approximately 125 trees before she decided to bring more variety to her displays.
“I kind of hated to give that up when I did, but then it needed to be changed,” she said.
Santa’s workshop was the first display that went away from the forest design.
“I did this (forest) window for about 10 years, and then I met my sign maker who could do all these fabulous backgrounds,” Juanita said. “And so then we started changing them up.”
Richard Campbell, owner of Signs of the Times, made new displays that allowed Juanita to create a wide variety of window scenes. She comes up with ideas, and he helps bring them to fruition.
In recent years, displays have been based on Christmas stories such as “The Polar Express,” “A Wish for Wings That Work,” “The Night Before Christmas” and “Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree.”
“It was getting hard to come up with something new to do for a window a few years back,” Juanita said. “It’s easier now that we’re doing books because it gives you an idea where to start.”
Each year a window display corresponds with a book that Ellen Keyes, Gateway Arts Council executive director, reads to children during a party at Ron & Nita’s. This year’s party is scheduled for Dec. 5.
“The kids, it’s just so much fun to see them react to the story,” Juanita said.
Kids, generally 1 to 10 years old, get a fancy ticket, cookies and a drink then listen to Keyes read a story. Santa also visits to talk to every child, and they each receive a bag of goodies.
It takes a lot of time and effort to organize the Christmas party and create the window displays each year. Juanita and her staff start planning more than a year in advance. High school students help decorate the windows, which are covered in late October until the displays are unveiled the Friday before Thanksgiving.
Decorations are repurposed year after year as it’s become difficult to find the animatronics that are featured in the displays. Creegan Company Animation Factory, one of the last manufacturers, went out of business in 2010.
“I would love to be able to find some new (animatronics) because I’m running out of characters,” Juanita said. “You can’t hardly find animation anymore. There is no place left in the United States unless something has popped up in the last year or two that makes animation. The last place that made it was in Steubenville.”
The first animatronics Ron and Juanita purchased came from their trip to Frankenmuth. Two circus bears on a teeter tooter inspired the couple’s first window display.
“We walked through Bronner’s (CHRISTmas Wonderland) like little kids, looking and looking and looking because everything hangs on the ceiling and on the side, down the floor, trying to figure out what we could do, what we could do,” Juanita said.
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