A look inside the wonderful windows at Macy’s

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

 

The weather’s cold. Snow flurries dance through the crisp air.

Even so, a crowd of people gathers on State Street, pausing to peer into windows on State Street.

The windows at Macy’s attract tourists and Chicagoans because whether it is a first-time visit or a longtime tradition, there’s something in those windows everyone wants to see.

“We come every year,” said Karen Rivera, who visited the windows with her husband Aqui and their granddaughter Amelia.

“We used to bring her father when he was a boy,” Karen explained.

But no matter how many times they come, what most people don’t see—what they can’t see—is the planning. Brian Peluso, the store’s visual manager, is the man behind the windows. This is Peluso’s first year as the visual manager for the State Street store, though he has 20 years’ worth of experience as assistant visual manager at the Macy’s in Columbus, Ohio.

Over the years, Peluso’s come to understand what these displays mean to people, both locals and tourists alike. Even though Christmas window displays take up a small amount of time and space in the Macy’s year, they’re a big deal.

It’s a lot of work getting folks coming back, year after year, for generations.

“The planning and execution process can take anywhere from nine months to a year,” Peluso wrote in an email. “Usually once the holiday windows are unveiled for the season, the brainstorming begins for the next year’s windows.”

Macy’s is a chain, so the store on State Street is part of a larger, national conversation that includes themes. After the stores agree on a look, the decorations are shipped out.

“This year’s window displays were packed and shipped in 20 pallets/crates made up of 15 double-length and five standard-sized skids,” Peluso wrote. “Also, we typically use about 50-60 pounds of fake snow in each year’s displays.”

The installation team consists of four or five people, and Peluso’s visual design team includes four people.hey add the finishing touches.

When Pelusa is designing the windows, he has to bear in mind the history of the tradition. He explained the store has shown displays since the 1870s—and over those years, they have developed quite a reputation.

“Macy’s was the first store to feature holiday windows created for the pure fun and joy of the season and, with that, began a tradition that still lives on today in numerous cities including New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Salt Lake City,” Peluso said.

“In Chicago specifically, we’re celebrating the 51st anniversary of our annual holiday window display at Macy’s on State Street.”

But that doesn’t mean the display itself is old. While some of the iconography like Santa may remain consistent, Peluso said the general themes do change.

“Each year a few new elements are added,” he said. “This year, we are excited to continue to celebrate all the Reasons to Believe.”

Each window also has its own theme and color palette, though there is at least one constant feature used to tie the all the displays together visually.

“Borders are placed around the windows to add to the overlying theme and to reflect Macy’s particular branding style,” Peluso said, adding that so much work and care goes into the windows, he understands why they attract people. There’s a lot to take in, and he has some advice on how to do it right.

“There are so many meticulous details in each window—from the sculpting of the caricatures, to the props, to the backdrops and more,” he wrote. “I’d recommend that viewers get up close to the glass and look at every inch. Then step back, so they’ll see the small details start to pop out, showing how exciting the entire window is.”

Finally, for anyone looking to spruce up their own windows—or a room—with Christmas spirit, Peluso has some advice.

“A good tip that I would recommend to anyone decorating their home for the holidays is that lighting and color go a long way, but when you add music plus a fragrance, such as a candle or potpourri, the decorations become even more captivating since they will touch on all your senses,” he said.

Check out the window displays through Christmas at 111 North State St.

Many avenues to help the homeless

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

 

Homeless people are a part of downtown.

When walking downtown, every street corner seems to include a cup outstretched, and every awning seems to cover a pile of ragged blankets sheltering a homeless person who may be in need of a helping hand this holiday season.

The Chicago Tribune reported over the summer that there may be over 4,000 homeless people in the city, with 1,500 of those living outdoors. During the winter months and at Christmastime especially, many may feel a need to do something—to offer a sandwich or a few bucks to a homeless person, to donate a few cans to a food pantry or to give their time or money to a charity. But what’s the best course of action?

“I’d like to adopt an all of the above approach,” said Michael Nameche, the director of development for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, located on Lake Street near the New Eastside.

Since 1980, Nameche’s organization has worked to prevent and end homelessness in the city, and Nameche said he’s learned two things—that there is no one solution and that everyone can do something.

“[Homelessness is] a big problem, and so most homeless service agencies will accept help at whatever level someone can give,” he said. “If I were to make suggestions, there are choices. There is no wrong way. That’s the important thing. Some folks choose to donate money and that is very effective because it’s the most liquid of help so it can be addressed toward whatever is needed at the moment…Others like to donate their time and that is also very valuable.”

That said, Nameche compared volunteering to working out: It is most effective if people do it more than once. “When a nonprofit makes an investment in a volunteer, they like them to stick around for a while,” he said. “If you know you can’t sustain it for a while, maybe that’s not the best avenue.”

If you don’t think you can sign on to a long-term commitment, never fear; there are other options. One route, especially for groups like residential buildings and neighborhood organizations, is hosting a drive for clothing, food or money. “Drives for things that are needed are good; however, I think it’s always best to have a conversation with a local nonprofit to come up with someone that you know will be received well.,” Nameche said.

Nameche said sometimes nonprofits get surprised with a truckload of donations they don’t need or cannot use, and it can be hard to turn away someone’s genuine desire to help. “It’s terrible if someone brings you a shipment of hats and scarves if you’ve just got a whole bunch of hats and scarves,” he said.

Nameche said another benefit of talking to a local nonprofit is would-be donors may be inspired to collect things that would have never occurred to anyone. Nameche said donations like CTA passes could mean the difference between a job and unemployment for some homeless people.

“People of very modest means might not have a dime to them, but they might have to get across town to get to a doctor’s appointment or a job interview. Imagine if you have a job interview but you can’t get to it because you can’t get on the CTA,” Nameche said.

He also said a winter or holiday drive is a great start, but organizations that do routine work with local homeless nonprofits could make a real difference in their neighborhoods. This goes for individuals, too. “Much like going to the gym, it’s a good idea to establish relationships with an organization you feel a connection to because it’s doing good in your community,” he said.

Nameche said volunteers and organizations should feel free to shop around to find a good fit.

“Finding a good volunteer gig is like getting on the dating scene; you have to find a good match,” he explained. “Much like dating, you have to be patient, and you have to put yourself out there, and if the first time you contact a nonprofit and they don’t seem to jump on what you have to offer, don’t get discouraged just because it’s not the right fit.”

Nameche said there is something out there for every volunteer. Some nonprofits need volunteers in the evening as tutors, others need help during the daytime and some just need volunteers on the weekends. Volunteering could be a great way to help for retired residents and anyone on a fixed income who doesn’t want to make a financial commitment—especially those who have time during the day.

“If somebody is available during the day, that’s the rarest kind of volunteer,” Nameche said.

He said there are also groups, like his, where volunteers don’t even need to work directly with the homeless population, if that is a concern. Organizations like Coalition for the Homeless need volunteers to do simple office jobs. Volunteers could make a real difference “stuffing envelopes or doing office work so we don’t have to pay people to do that,” he said.

No matter what one does, it all makes a difference, Nameche said.

“Sometimes when people ask, ‘What can I do to help the homeless?’ What they’re asking is, ‘Should I give to people in the street?’ That’s a very personal decision and we don’t have a position on if it’s right to give to people on the street,” he said. “It’s right for some people. Some people carry cash, some people don’t. … Some people like that face–to-face interaction.

“If you’re troubled by seeing people on the street as most people should be, then come up with your own response. Just know that the best thing is to get folks who are in dire need of help connected to professional services. That’s sometimes something you don’t have time for, but you do have time to slip them a couple of bucks. It’s not wrong. But don’t be a cynic and find your response to that issue. It might be buying them a sandwich once a week or it might be volunteering once a week. Everybody has their own pathway, and if everybody did something, then the needle would move.”

Nameche said anyone who wants to get started finding a local nonprofit to get involved with can visit www.volunteermatch.org and see what is available close by. Visit www.chicagohomeless.org to find out more about the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

 

Cold weather, hot chocolate: Getting the most from your mug

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

 

When the weather gets cold and the Christmas tunes start playing, nothing gets the body warm like a mug full of hot chocolate. For the best tastes, check out:

Hot Chocolate Bakery, 125 S. Clark St. (inside Revival Hall)

Start with the Medium for a basic milk chocolate flavor with a touch of caramel, then move on to the Dark, made of 72 percent dark chocolate. Mexican hot chocolate is also available at  $6 per cup. Drinks include a house-made marshmallow that takes up almost the whole mug and adds a milky sweetness as it melts. Adults can try the drink with cognac, whiskey, rum or brandy.

Ghiradelli 400 or 830 N. Michigan Ave.

At Ghirardelli, try the Lombard Street Hot Cocoa for $4.25—a cup of hot steamed milk served with four of the chocolate shop’s sweet milk chocolate and truffle squares to mix into your drink, or try the Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa topped with whipped cream,swerved with milk chocolate caramel squares.

Dylan’s Candy Bar, 663 N. Michigan Ave.

Chocolate—hot or frozen—runs for $6, topped with whipped cream, hot fudge and mini marshmallows.

Bombo Bar, 832 W. Randolph St.

The West Loop’s hot spot’s “hotter chocolates” are overflowing with toppings and flavor. Snap some photos of these Instagram-worthy treats before you start sipping. The Hotter Chocolates, $9 each, come in two flavors—S’mores and Party Monster. The drinks may be spiked with Baileys, Stoli Vanilla Vodka, RumChata, Jameson or Grand Mariner for $8.

L.A. Burdick, 609 N. State St.

This 30-year-old New England chocolate shop and cafe has but one Midwestern location—and this is it. The Chicago shop opened in 2017, and though  they are known for their European chocolates, L.A. Burdick also offers a variety of hot cocoas—dark, milk, white or spicy—that start around $5.

An introduction to the familiar faces behind your favorite music

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

 

The Christmas season means cold weather, good family, friends, warm wishes and…music.

No matter the person, a love of Christmas carols is almost universal and perhaps no choir knows that more than the Chicago Chamber Choir, a group that includes some of the city’s top talent. The choir should be familiar to downtown residents.

Executive Director Kayleigh Duduvoir was, until recently, a Streeterville resident and her choir performs regularly in the area—they have a Dec. 20 performance at the Clare on their calendar—and they also sing at Cloud Gate in Millennium Park.

That performance is slated for Dec. 7, but before the big show, Duduvoir offered a look behind the scenes of one of the city’s top choirs.

“Usually our official season begins in October, but we get Christmas requests as soon as mid-November,” she said.

This month at Cloud Gate, Dudevoir said guests can expect to hear a mix of Christmas music.

“Some traditional Christmas carols like ‘Silent Night,’ ‘Deck the Halls’ and so on, as well as Christmas-themed but not traditional carols” will be sung in the park, she said.

Dudevoir said the choir has been performing at Cloud Gate for several years—it’s her sixth season with the group—and she said it’s always enjoyable for the choir and for the attendees. “We’ve done a number of performances there and there are always lots of children,” she said.

Guests will bring hot chocolate to sip while they listen and, Dudevoir said, if it’s not too terribly cold, the choir tries to wear festive sweaters, so it’s not so formal.

The city invites folks to hear some of the best choirs in the city perform Christmas carols for free at Cloud Gate.

All performances begin at 6 p.m. and wrap up by 7 p.m. Admission is free. The other performances will be Dec. 12 and Dec. 14 at the same times. To check out the Chicago Chamber Choir, its website, www.chicagochamberchoir.org/season, includes all upcoming dates.

The best places to see and be seen with Santa in Chicago

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

 

Adults may dream of a white Christmas, but for many kids, the holiday evokes another color altogether as a trip to see the old man in red is almost compulsory. Luckily, children in and around the downtown area have plenty of options:

 

Water Tower Place

The shopping’s never been better at Water Tower Place, a Mag Mile institution, and this year just as in years past, Santa will be around to meet with kids and pets. Reservations are encouraged to avoid a wait and there are various theme nights—like pajama night—so be sure to scroll through the options to get the perfect fit. To find the best night for your schedule and to make a reservation, check www.celebrateyourholiday.com

 

The Driehaus Museum

This popular destination has added Sunday dates for Santa. Kids under 2 are free, tickets for kids up to 12 are $15 and adult tickets are $20. The tickets include activities like sing-a-longs, story times and family fun. Anyone interested should get tickets as soon as possible, as several dates have already sold out. For more information, check the museum website at http://driehausmuseum.org

 

Soldier Field Breakfast with Santa

For a full morning with the big man, why not sign up for breakfast with Santa at Soldier Field on Dec. 8? Adult tickets are $50, $25 for kids ages 4-12 and free for younger kids. The tickets include a train display, an ornament contest and a cookie decorating area for children. This event includes a toy drive, so be sure and bring a new, unopened gift for a child in need. For more information, call (312) 235-7063 or email SoldierFieldBistro@aramark.com

 

Shedd Aquarium Breakfast with Santa

The Shedd Aquarium is offering a full morning of fun with Santa every weekend leading up to Christmas. Ticket prices vary for members and non-members, but the event includes breakfast, crafts, a Polar Express train ride and parade, an aquatic presentation and more. For more information, visit www.sheddaquarium.org/

 

Macy’s State Street Santa Events

Breakfast no good? Well, Macy’s has the solution for parents who want more options. The State Street department store is offering breakfast, lunch and/or dinner to folks who need some variety in scheduling time to visit Father Christmas. The events run through the month. For more information, visit http://macysrestaurants.com

 

Skate with Santa at Maggie Daley Park

Anyone who wants to get the kids out and about could do worse than this free opportunity to get the kids out on the ice with Santa at Maggie Daley Park in the heart of the New Eastside. On Dec. 16, from 10 a.m. to noon, kids can lace up and hold hands with the jolly red elf. For more information, visit www.chicagoparkdistrict.com

 

Swissotel’s Santa Suite

The hotel admits their newly-renovated Santa Suite is over the top, so expect to be wowed on the 41st floor by sights, sounds and decorations. The suite is open through Dec. 23 and tickets begin at $15 for individuals, and family packs can be had for $40. For more information, visit www.swissotel.com

 

Other places to find Santa

If you still can’t get enough Santa, follow the merry fellow as he travels through Chicagoland and beyond. This month, Santa will be visiting a number of nearby suburbs, and families can visit him in a variety of places. For more information, check out www.santainchicago.com

 

Transit Tees launches LOOP: The Elevated Card Game, an urban adventure game

Staff reports

 

Chicago-based Transit Tees, an official manufacturer of Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) products announces the debut of LOOP: The Elevated Card Game, an adventure game based on the elevated commuter train.

 

The game is designed to capture the commuter experience on Chicago’s train system in an engaging way for two to seven plays, any age from 9 and up. The object of the game is for the player to discard all the cards in hand while navigating the L train system.

 

Along the way players—as riders—must negotiate buskers, train preachers, manspreading commuters, rush hour crowds and other everyday train hassles like forgotten fare cards, falling asleep on the train, sitting in a weird puddle or going to the wrong airport.

 

“Chicago transit riders are true urban warriors,” said Transit Tees owner and founder, Tim Gillengerten. “They encounter and deal with many obstacles in their daily commute and, in our opinion, have an ‘elevated’ ability to navigate our train system. We would joke around the studio about all the hilarious, and not so hilarious, things that happened to us on the ‘L’ and came up with the brilliant idea to merge art, design and all that’s irreverent about living in and getting around a big city in creating Loop: The Elevated Card Game.”

 

Just in time for the holidays, Loop: The Elevated Card Game will be available Nov. 15 online and at both Transit Tees locations in Wicker Park, 1371 N. Milwaukee Ave. or in Andersonville at 5226 N. Clark St. The game will sell for $20.

 

A free public launch event will be held Nov. 15 from 6-9 p.m. in conjunction with the sixth Anniversary of Transit Tees’ Wicker Park location. Guests will be the first to play the new LOOP card game, preview other holiday gift ideas, and enjoy light bites and refreshments from Antique Taco and Revolution Brewery. No RSVP is required.

Conceived and designed at the Transit Tees design studio in Wicker Park, LOOP: The Elevated Card Game is the first game created by the locally owned and operated company that designs and produces more than 100 original local and transit-themed apparel, housewares and accessory products each year. In fact, the LOOP game and ‘L’ Stop Cards are based on the design of Transit Tees’ popular Transit Magnets, which now include all 185 unique ‘L’ stops in the transit system represented in square magnet form.

“The transit system’s signage, maps, and colors are the epitome of contemporary artwork and remind us of game play action.” said artist Tom LaPlante, who spearheaded this project at Transit Tees’ in-house design studio. “The graphic look of the LOOP game is inspired by the look, shape, colors, and icons of the Chicago’s ‘L’ system.”

Transit geeks will especially appreciate LOOP’s technical authenticity: all the Transfers are accurate, and all Stops include the precise coordinates on Chicago’s grid. Each deck also includes an iconic ‘L’ Map Card with interesting facts about the train system and its history. Now, daily commuters, tourists and Chicago buffs alike can learn how to navigate and ride the CTA through playing the LOOP game.

For more information, visit www.transittees.com or call 773-227-1810.