Christmas Shopping: The Thrill Is Gone?

I posted this blog last winter and after a recent day of exploring downtown Calgary inside and out it looks to me like some of the windows haven't been changed since last year. Shame on those retailers and restaurants who complain about lack of business, but do nothing to entice people to come downtown and shop.  I can't believe some of the dark forbidding windows on some of the restaurants. Who wants to go into a black hole. 

As many Everyday Tourist followers know, I love taking photographs of the wonderful collages created by the reflection of buildings, street life and window displays while flaneuring shopping streets. Recently, I was flaneuring along Stephen Avenue Walk (Calgary’s downtown pedestrian mall and home to two department stores, three indoor shopping malls and dozens of shops and restaurants) thinking that given it is Holiday Season, I would find some great reflections.  Boy, was I wrong!

Other than a few of Holt Renfrew’s street windows and the thousands of cascading mini lights from Bankers Hall's  skylight, I was hard pressed to find any Christmas/Holiday decorations.  Many of the windows didn’t look much different than any other time of the year.  I’d bet money some of them haven’t changed in over a year.

Bankers Hall's cascading lights has become an exciting and enchanting downtown tradition, that creates a unique sense of place for both shoppers and office workers. Unfortunately none of the other downtown shopping and office complexes have been as innovative and imaginative. 

Missed Opportunities

Riley & McCormick Western Wear and Lammle’s Western Wear & Tack both have flagship retail stores on Stephen Avenue. What a great opportunity for them to do something fun and unique with their large windows for the holidays based on a western wear fashion Christmas.  Arnold Churgin Shoes, Winners, Sports Chek (Canada’s largest retailer of sporting goods in Canada and a Calgary company) and Out There (high end outdoor clothing retailer) also have flagship stores on the Walk, but you wouldn’t know it by their “bah humbug” windows. 

It is surprising that Arnold Churgin Shoes on Stephen Avenue doesn't have spectacular windows not only at Christmas, but year-round.  

Winners has never capitalized on the potential of its large Stephen Avenue windows as a sales and marketing tool.   

Indigo Books' huge window on Stephen Avenue is hardly what you would expect from a major retailer during the holiday season. 

Stephen Avenue needs more than just holiday lights to make it an attractive place to shop. 

The Independents 

Thank goodness some of the smaller independent stores got into the Christmas Spirit along Stephen Avenue. 

Coppeneur Chocolatier has the yummiest windows on the block. This store is now closed

Fluevog Shoes got into the Christmas spirit. 

The Department Stores 

I am thinking this suggestive party cracker themed window by Holt Renfrew turned some heads?

Inside Holt Renfrew is much more conservative with its decorations inside the store. 

I always thought the purpose of a flagship stores was partly to build the company’s brand. There was no sense of animation or excitement to invite you to go in, or portray that this would be an interesting, fun place to do some Christmas shopping in any of these stores. 

Hudson's Bay flagship store’s windows along Stephen Avenue are nothing short of pathetic. Along Stephen Avenue they announce a new development coming soon if you look in the window it looks like nothing is happening.  The main entrance windows on 1st Street SW just off the Walk has a tired looking generic perfume banners having absolutely nothing to do the holidays. Even when you walk into the store, there’s no sense of celebration, no sense that this is a special place to shop.  

The entrance to Hudson's Bay's historic downtown store makes no reference to the Holiday Season. The window looks the same a year later.

It doesn't get any better inside the store. 

Then there’s Flames Central (aka Allen/Palace Theatre) a major event centre. I don’t think they’ve changed their windows since they opened, which must be at least 10 years ago.

Even when you go inside the shopping malls (Bankers Hall, The Core and Scotia Centre) most of the retailers have ignored the power of exciting and enchanting windows, to make the tens of thousands of pedestrians who pass by the windows every day – stop, look and potentially come in to shop.

Brass Monocle in The Core shopping centre is known for its imaginative windows, yet there is no attempt to make them festive for the Holiday Season.  

Guess' window features their dresses but nothing says, "This is Christmas..." 

Bah Humbug!

Downtown Christmas shopping used to be a tradition, not only in Calgary, but in cities across North America.  Department stores like The Bay and Eaton’s would have wonderful Christmas windows with animated Christmas or winter scenes that attracted families from across the city to come downtown to shop.

In most major cities, the annual downtown Santa Claus Parade attracted tens of thousands of spectators/shoppers from across the city and was the traditional kick off of the holiday season. Today only few major cities have a parade and with a few exceptions the downtown department stores (those that still exist) don’t even bother with a Santa’s Village. 

Kudos to the Calgary Downtown Association for organizing weekends with Santa at Devonian Gardens and Olympic Plaza, as well as for their lighting up Stephen Avenue at night, but without the help of retailers (indoors and out) creating fun, festive windows and shops, it is pretty much pointless.

Kensington Village

My route into downtown takes me through Kensington Village and one of the first retail windows I encountered was Purr. I was expecting more from this funky fashion retailer in the way of a seasonal window display. 

Walking the streets of Kensington Village the celebration of the holiday season is a bit better.  Kudos to Battisella Developments for their Christmas tree and to the Business Revitalization Zone for banners, Christmas hanging decorations and weekend activities (roaming Santa, Elves and horse drawn wagon rides. 

However, the windows of the majority of the retailers, restaurants and cafes still are pretty much devoid of any sense of the holiday season.   

Fortunately as I wandered further into the Village I found more windows like this one - The Rocket T-shirts - that had fun, funky and festive windows

Last Word

No wonder more and more people are shopping online; the thrill of shopping in person is gone. I'd love to hear from readers what it is like in the suburban malls and Calgary's other shopping streets - 9th Ave, in Inglewood, 17th Ave. in Beltline or 4th Street in Mission.  

Too bad it is only in places like Chicago and New York that the “thrill of the Christmas holiday season lives on.”

This is just one of several trees I found decorated next to the sidewalk that made my walk home more pleasant.

On my way home, I noticed several homeowners had decorating their street trees with Christmas ornaments. This got me thinking wouldn’t it be great if the merchants along Calgary’s pedestrian streets did the same to the trees in front of their stores. It would add some fun and festivity to what can be a pretty drab pedestrian experience in our winter season.  

 

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Macy's Holiday Windows on State Street: A Chicago Tradition

Stampede 2015: Have we lost that luv'n feeling?

Window licking in Chicago

 

 

 

 

What is "Maximalism" you ask?

Bet you didn’t guess that “Maximalism” is the catalogue title for Seattle’s Hotel Max’s art collection. Yes, the hotel not only has a wonderful art collection, but also like a public art museum, they have documented all of the hotels artworks (250) reproduced in full colour and each artist has two pages with an artist’s statement and bio. In addition, there is an introduction by curator Tessa Papas and a very readable short essay by Bruce Guenther, Chief Curator at the Portland Art Museum.

In the catalogue, Guenther writes, “This adventurous act of cultural patronage suggests a new, creative ways to bring serious art into the public’s experience and celebrates the plentitude of its practitioners and of aesthetic attitudes at work in Seattle.”

On a recent trip to Seattle, we stayed at the Hotel Max for a few nights and we were most impressed with the art; it was everywhere! And, this art is not just a bunch of pretty pictures; this is hardcore modern art. The hotel has respected the art and the artwork, each of the artworks has its own label and in the catalogue is the email of each artists if guest wished to contact them to comment or perhaps buy one of their works. 

I am sorry I can't reproduce all of the artworks in this blog, you will just have to check out Hotel Max for yourself next time you are in Seattle. 

I loved this haunting image of Samuel Beckett that greets you as you enter the hotel.  It immediately shouts, "This is a cool place!" The artwork is by local artist Stephen Kaluza. 

I was most impressed by the Hotel Max’s guest floor hallway art program. Nine photographers were selected and each given a floor to showcase their work creating nine mini exhibitions with 17 photos per floor. All of the art in the rooms and lobby were also selected from local artists.

What makes the hallway exhibitions really unique is they aren’t in standard fames on the wall but rather large format photographs covering the entire room doors with the doorframe doing double duty as the frame for the artwork.  Dark hallways with lighting focused on the black and white photography create a dramatic and pensive sense of space, in sharp contrasts with the rooms, which have light, bright and full of colourful artworks.

Byan Smith, Upside, mixed media 40' x 24' was the feature artwork in our room.  It would fit easily into our art collection and made us feel at home. We even had a turntable with Seattle indie group records in our room 9as did all rooms on the 5th floor) given the subject of the photographs was Seattle's music scene. How fun is that? 

I have never experienced anything like “maximalism” anywhere else.  The entire hotel is like a giant installation artwork with literally hundreds of contemporary artworks that have been thoughtfully selected and installed.

The hallway on the fifth floor as we exit the elevator. 

Amy Mullen, Untitled, photograph, 8th floor 

Paul Sundberg, Mr. Smith #3, photograph, 4th Floor (there was a series of Mr. Schmidt photographs, other titles included: Mr. Schmidt comes home, Mr Schmidt goes to work 

John Armstrong, Dancing Neon Couple, photograph, 10th floor

Charles Peterson, Nirvana, Los Angeles, 1990, 5th floor

Charles Petterson, Laughing Hyenas, Seattle, 1991, 5th Floor

Erin Shafkind, Her head is in the world, photograph, 2nd floor

Joan Broughton, Magical Tom Frank, photography, 3rd Floor

Joan Broughton, Greg Spence Wolf, photography, 3rd Floor 

Lesson learned?

I have never experienced anything like “maximalism” anywhere else.  The entire hotel is like a giant installation artwork with literally hundreds of contemporary artworks that have been thoughtfully selected and installed.

I have often thought hotels (Calgary and elsewhere) could do a much better job of selecting artwork that reflects the “sense of place” where they are located. A downtown Calgary hotelier once blasted me when I questioned their choice of art for a new hotel because all the imagery was of the mountains, nothing reflecting Calgary urban sense of place.  

My thinking was this new hotel would enhance the visitors’ stay by providing them with images (realistic and abstract) of the fun things to see and do in Calgary - architecture, parks, plazas, streetscapes and public art that are right in the hotel’s backyard!

I even suggested commissioning several local artists (painters, printmakers, photographers) to explore the city and create a portfolio of images from which the hotelier could create a unique art collection. Kudos to Calgary's Hotel Arts for their commitment to contemporary urban art as part of their brand. 

Hotels across the world - big and small, luxury and economy - could learn from Hotel Max how create a unique hotel experience for visitors.

Even the room keys are mini works of art from the hotel; this was my room key.  It was a reproduction of a photograph from the 10th floor by John Armstrong, titled "Rue Reamumur, Paris."  I keep mine as a souvenir.   

Last Word

If we want to make downtown Calgary a tourist attraction (and I think we do), more must be done to promote our unique urban sense of place.  In addition to hoteliers becoming ambassadors for urban tourism, so too should restaurants and retailers.  Everyone could help by using local art that reflects local spaces and places as part of their interior design or window displays.

Any hotelier interested in creating a unique, special and meaningful experience for their guests should visit Seattle to check out the Hotel Max.  And if you are tourist visiting Seattle, for business or pleasure, Hotel Max is the best place to stay.

If you like this blog, you might like to click on these links to related Everyday Tourists blogs:

 

 

Calgary: Interchanges as art?

A few weeks ago,  I became intrigued with a tweet by @roadknots with its attached Google Earth photo collage of some of the world’s most complex and convoluted interchange.  Upon opening the photo I was startled by the images and puzzled by the term “road knots,” never before having encountered the term.  

This is the collage of international Road Knots created by Nicholas Rougeux for google maps.

Note: After posting this blog received a tweet from Nicholas Rougeux saying, " Road Knots is a silly name i came up with for complex and beautiful interchanges. Glad you like them."  It will be interesting to see if this catches on. 

This is a collage of some of Calgary's road knots created by Peak Aerials.  Note: one of them is not a road. Can you tell which one? 

A quick Google search didn’t help – it seems this a new term.  However, it is appropriate given many of the interchanges have elements of some of the knots I learned as a Boy Scout many, many years ago – the Bowline, the Sheepshank and the trusty old Clove Hitch.

Never wanting Calgary to be left out of any new urban design discussion, I started surfing Google Earth to see how our interchanges compared.  I quickly found some interesting Calgary road knots. 

Then I contacted Keith Walker at Peak Aerials who I knew has a collection of aerial photos (mostly from Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Fort McMurray) to see if he might have documented some of Calgary’s incredible, implausible, inconceivable and improbable interchanges. 

Sure enough, in his 250,000+ collection of aerial images he had many photos of Calgary’s road knots.

Calgary's interchanges take on a whole new context from the air with their sensual twists and turns.  Some looked like cartoon figures,others like abstract drawings or petroglyphs.  It was also intriguing to see how they changed with the seasons.   

Below are the ten Calgary road knots I found the most interesting.  I have chosen not to identify their location so you can appreciate them for their aesthetic qualities first and place second.  Hopefully they will engage your imagination as they did mine.  Send me your favourite road knots or share some of your thoughts on  these or other road knots. Did I save the best for the end?

Figuring out which knots they most closely resemble I will leave up to you. 

Calgary's Top Ten Road Knots?

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth 

  Photo Credit: Google Earth

Photo Credit: Google Earth

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth  

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth 

Comments welcomed!