Window Displays

Kaufmann's Clock

Kaufmann's Clock

The younger people in Pittsburgh might recognize the clock in the photo as “Macy’s” clock. But I wonder how many older Pittsburghers still meet under Kaufmann’s clock.

During most of my childhood, there were three major department stores in downtown Pittsburgh – Kaufmann’s, Joseph Horne’s, and Gimbel’s. The Christmas season found each of them trying to outdo the others with animated displays in their windows. The holidays weren’t complete without a visit to Santa and a tour of the department store windows.

The animated figures were extremely primitive when compared to the automatons Disney unveiled at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, but to the eyes of a small child, it was total magic.

I’m sure the main purpose of the displays was to showcase the latest toys and clothing styles, and to entice visitors to go inside where it was much warmer. But my family only went inside if somebody needed to use a bathroom. Although my mother shopped at all three of the major department stores, she also shopped at the smaller stores… and only bought when she had time to compare prices and get the best bargains.

The young folks who recognized Macy’s clock most likely are unaware that until the late 1950’s, most people did the majority of their shopping in the downtown stores. There were no branches at outlying malls. For that matter, there were no outlying malls. I should also note that Sam Walton had yet to open a store in the Pittsburgh area. And there was no K-Mart. There were a few five and ten-cent stores, but they, too, were downtown.

Horne’s, Gimbel’s, and Kaufmann’s are all gone now – even from the outlying malls, and Macy’s has taken over the old downtown Kaufmann’s. I have not been back to Pittsburgh during the Christmas season in many years, so I don’t know if Macy’s does anything special with their windows. Perhaps a reader from Pittsburgh will send me an update.

Several years ago my bride and I were in New York City during the holiday season and, sure enough, the Macy’s on 34th street (where the miracle took place!) had decorated their windows in the old fashioned way. We enjoyed moving along with the crowd – oohing and ah-ing at the wondrous items on display.

I’m guessing that if the Macy’s in New York still uses their windows to attract customers, the one in Pittsburgh does the same.

It wouldn’t be Christmas in the city without that wonderful tradition.


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