Hardy Plumbing
December 21, 2011

Merchants Make The Season Bright



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Credit department store icon R.H. Macy. During the 1870s he conceived the notion of creating elaborate holiday window displays to entice shoppers during the Christmas season. The subtle advertising tool became a tradition for families who, to this day, bundle up and tour the city to view the extravagant exhibits.

Credit an inventor by the name of Edward Johnson who, working under Thomas Edison, created the first string of electric Christmas lights. In 1882, he lit the first tree in New York City with them and by 1900 most big stores included electric lights in their displays.

Credit merchants and Chambers of Commerce in villages across the East End who are carrying on those long ago traditions and making the season bright for Hamptons visitors and residents.

In Sag Harbor, Chamber Vice President Alan Fruitstone is the picture of civic pride when discussing his group's holiday efforts. The chamber decks the village with Christmas trees and wreaths and hosts the annual lighting of the windmill. Shopkeepers adorn their store windows and, according to Fruitstone, "People really get into it. Last night as I left the village, it was after dark and it's just so pretty. It's nice and conveys an atmosphere of warmth. You don't get that at a shopping mall."

Tara Fallo from the Southampton Chamber of Commerce agrees. In her village, it looks as if merchants came together to craft a theme. "There's a very coherent look. It's warm and cozy and homey."

The Southampton Chamber hosted two successful holiday events this season -- the annual parade of lights and "Magic on Main," a collaboration with the Make a Wish Foundation. A horse drawn carriage stepping through downtown streets and wandering carolers underscored an ambience reflective of holiday nostalgia.

And that ambience attracts shoppers, too.

This year East Hampton Village has seen an up tick in holiday visitors, according to Marina Van, executive director of the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce. "This year we're getting a lot of day trippers who come out to look at how beautiful East Hampton is," she said. This season, starting with the Santa parade at the beginning of December, the village has been "festive and jolly. Many stores have carolers and music and serve cookies and cider," Van reported. The chamber's annual holiday house tour boasted more visitors than in previous years and store displays are, she said, "really exceptional."

In Montauk, the store displays are festive, exceptional, and competitive. For the third year, the Montauk Chamber held a contest to discern which shop crafted the best holiday decorations. J&P Pools won first place this year in a stiff competition that saw judges driving around several times in an effort to decide just one grand prizewinner. Fort Pond Native Plants, which boasted an American flag made of lights came in second and White's Department store placed third. Its window, according to Laraine Creegan, rivals any display you'd see in the Big Apple.

Beyond the individual shop windows, a variety of civic groups get involved in dressing up the Lighthouse district. Chamber members meticulously decorate each of the 75 trees along Main Street, and, of course, the annual lighting of the historic Montauk Point Lighthouse has become a family tradition drawing thousands out to start the season on the East End.

A festive fact: When he was just seven years old in 1887, a boy by the name of Joshua Cowen built his first model locomotive, fitting it with a steam engine he devised. When he was 19, he took the motor from an electric fan and fitted it to a toy flatcar and set the invention up on a circular brass track. He offered the set to a New York City novelty shop and by 1921 his company sold more than a million electric train sets. Never heard of Cowen? Folks are more familiar with his middle name – Lionel.

Toy train sets are still among the most popular Christmas gifts today, even though many kids have never ridden a train. Some say it's their parents who derive the most pleasure from the sets, which can be as simple or elaborate as the imagination allows.

Out at Gurney's Inn in Montauk, the imagination runs at full steam. During the holiday season, visitors old and young marvel at an expansive train set replete with a bounty of miniature accoutrement. Grab some gourmet Pfeffernusse and a cup of yummy hot cocoa at the Beach Bakery and check them out.

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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