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Village of Lancaster Magically Becomes
‘Christmasville’ As Storefront Windows
Come Alive for the Season!

By Paul Chimera

The Village of Lancaster seems to be having an identity crisis.

Lately, some are calling it Bedford Falls, what with its small town charm reminiscent of the endearing character of George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life.

Others – including town officials – are honorarily renaming it “Christmasville.” It’s easy to see why. Approach the cozy two-block area traveling south on Central Avenue, and you cross Pleasant Avenue, which even Frank Capra couldn’t have more aptly named. Then, from Brookfield Place south to West Main Street, you’ll find storefronts alive with animated Christmas toys and finely crafted figurines. And the heavens seem to open up, trumpeting piped-in holiday music in the crisp December air.

Maybe this is Bedford Falls.

Except – unlike George’s family and friends, who had no clue who he’d become when his life-changing wish was granted – the Village of Lancaster knows exactly what it becomes from November 11 through January 8. It’s a jingle of seasonal nostalgia and a jangle of pure enchantment.

It’s a miracle not on 34th Street, but along Central Avenue. Welcome to Christmasville!

In Storage for 25 Years

Animated Christmas windows grace storefronts with colorful whimsy and artful dexterity. A highlight, for the second year in a row – but improved over last year – is the appearance of vintage figures, which used to be a fixture in the old AM&A’s department store windows in downtown Buffalo.

Thomas T. Kazmierczak III, director of the Lancaster Opera House – which owns most of the historic icons and is creator of the annual Christmasville festivities – says the antique fixtures had been in storage for 25 years, before they were acquired last year and refurbishing got underway.

At the New York Store on Central Avenue, the former AM&A’s vintage display features a freckle-faced girl in braided pig tails and pink flannel nightgown actually jumping on her bed, while her sister lay over the bed, petting their dog, who’s partly hunkered down under the box spring. The family cat naps on the dresser, while another child lingers in bed, and pages of a book are opened to “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Mom appears lying in her canopy bed, donning a purple night cap, while father – sporting a pink cap – leans animatedly out the half-opened window, a wide-eyed look of amazement on his face. Elsewhere in the display, you’ll spot a girl teetering precariously on the back of a wooden chair – anchored by her sister seated on it – and a mechanically operated dog that tugs on a young boy’s tie. Dad, also mechanical, sets up the tree in the living room, and nearby animated musicians play violins and a cello while another proudly conducts the trio.

Kringle Koffee Kafe and Gift Shop’s display, sponsored by the Village & Town of Lancaster and Assemblyman Paul Tokasz, showcases a trolley car, part of The Capital Traction Co. fleet, inside of which stands a man carrying skis, a woman holding a holiday package, two other passengers, and the mustachioed conductor. The background storefronts – constructed by Enchanted Landscapes of West Seneca – span a butcher shop, apothecary, Peter’s Drug Store, the Lancaster Times newspaper office, and The Old Reliable Grocery Store.

A golden robed St. Nicholas figure appears at the left in the tableau, and green and gold wood curtains frame the window itself – craftsmanship courtesy, too, of Enchanted Landscapes, who created similar curtain details on many of the other window exhibits.

The Windows Are the Gifts

Bishop Nicholas of the 4th century was the basis for the Christian-era Santa Claus, and was a rich and generous man who was very loving to children. It is said he often gave joy to poor kids by throwing gifts in through their windows. Here in Lancaster, or, rather, Christmasville, the windows are the gifts.

Reportedly thousands of Western New Yorkers are making their way here, drawn to what the opera house’s Kazmierczak describes as a place where “past memories are reborn and current memories are made.”

Another great example is the display at Mastercraft Upholstering. Sponsored by L. Dental Associates, PC, the window comes alive with a shovel-toting snowman and another with a broom. Three reindeer – one in a tuxedo – play the violin. Striking oversized vintage-style ornaments hang above the scene, while the cottony snow on the ground is dotted with hubcap-size candy pieces and large pinecones, along with a beautifully designed reindeer ingeniously fashioned of delicate holiday ribbon.

Among those responsible for the painstaking task of creating or refurbishing some of the stunning work on display are Linda Costa, the opera house’s assistant director, who told After 50 she fondly recalls enjoying the original AM&A’s storefronts every Christmas as a child. Kirkland Gilmer, technical director at Lancaster Opera House, had a hand in the job, as well as Dominic Dommer, who did many of the backdrops. Michele Costa with Theatre Figuren in Buffalo revitalized the faces with fresh paint, and refurbished the figurines’ hair.

Susan Derner restored costumes of the originals, which hark back to 1948, and Desiree Sweeney cleaned up the figures, which had decades of dirt to remove. In addition to Lancaster Opera House owning most of the AM&A’s materials, Roger Foser of Foser’s Florist includes some in his personal collection. Expert assistance was also provided by Peter Fahrer, one of the original display specialists for AM&A’s for 30 years.

Paula Salvatore helped set up the Twin Music Village Studio’s display, sponsored by Salvatore’s Italian Gardens. A small reflection of the way the opulent restaurant does things, this storefront features formally tailored, life-size musicians – a clarinetist, saxophonist, trumpeter and trombonist – sporting Beatles-like haircuts. The chap on the right really does look like Paul McCartney.

What Shirley Temple Once Said

Where there’s music there’s dancing – the central theme at neighboring Uptown Doggie Day Care dog grooming spa. Two waltzing couples reveal dashing men in crisp tuxedos and elegant women in crinoline gowns. Under the glitter of icicle lights, the display is sponsored by Sliwinski’s Funeral Home.

It’s reported that Shirley Temple said she stopped believing in Santa Claus when “my mother took me to see him in a department store, and he asked for my autograph.”

Funny line. But along Central Avenue in the Village of Lancaster, everyone believes in Santa, and the jolly big guy makes his presence widely known here.

You’ll find him hatless and hairless, but with an impressive snow white beard, in the window at Robert E. Schaff Ltd., insurance and real estate appraisals, and Gary M. Schaff, attorneys and counselors at law. Sponsored by Apple Rubber Products, Inc., Santa sports a checkered shirt and a list of children’s names on a lengthy scroll draped over his outstretched arm.

Also in the display is another AM&A’s showpiece, featuring a carrot-top lad seated at a grand piano, and elderly man asleep in his chair, and an African-American girl dressed in a lovely gold satin dress, animatedly waving while she sits on a classic ottoman with mauve upholstery. The sponsor is Niagara Hobby & Craft Mart.

Four beautifully attired St. Nick figures likewise appear in the window at AIG Financial Advisors on W. Main St. And in the Village of Lancaster Building Department’s window, a moving Santa pulls a sleigh, while another Santa Claus figure rises up a chimney, with two of his reindeer in tow, behind which are colorful stockings hung from the mantle. Nearby, a mechanical dog and his owners move about the fireplace and Christmas tree, while perhaps it’s granddad rocking in a chair, resplendent in a purple jacket with gold buttons and sporting unruly muttonchops. To his right is a moving figure of a woman wrapping a gift.

Good For the Economy

“It’s part of economic development and tourism,” says Kazmierczak, extolling the virtues of the second annual Christmasville. “The streets used to be vacant, but now they’re not.” He also envisions the event as a wonderful stop for bus tours conducted by the Buffalo Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Whether by bus, car, on foot, or by sleigh, the community is enthusiastically coming out to embrace the AM&A’s original windows depicting “T’was The Night Before Christmas” as well as the new animated windows depicting “An Old Fashion Christmas.”

Be sure to gaze into the window at Bead Heav’n, whose display – sponsored by Elaine’s Flower Shop – includes two wooden toy soldiers and a delightful Vaudeville-like stage with Santa and reindeer. The wood stage’s framing architecture sports hand-painted images of theatrical masks and a swan-drawn chariot. Three youths tarry near the Christmas tree: one enjoys a lollypop, one holds a string of white pearls, a third gazes in speculation at a gift under the tree.

Stroll across Central Avenue and you come upon the storefront of Mark S. Aquino, attorney, as well as Property Management Initiatives, LLC, and Regional Management Solutions. The animation of Christmasville continues here with two boys in sailor suits and mop-top hairdos pulling on the gold ribbon encircling a floral-pattern gift box. You’ll spot an aquarium of (real) tropical fish at the back of the room.

Caroling is always a soothing sight and sound of Christmas, so what better business to feature four dazzlingly attired carolers in bright red and green regalia than Relaxation Station Therapeutic Massage Studio.

On W. Main Street, the Fitness Factory is yet another venue for a vintage AM&A’s display, sponsored by Performance Advantage Co. tool mounting systems. In front of a ginger bread house appear eight animated reindeer poised on their hindquarters, next to which a take-charge Santa wields a working but innocuous-looking whip. Motion continues at the left of the window with reindeer guiding Santa’s sleigh.

Exactly Where Are We?

A highlight of the Fitness Factory display is the image of jolly old St. Nick maneuvering down the chimney, complete with a bulky green bag bloated with toys. A woman looks up from the fireplace in rapt disbelief.

It’s fitting that a replica of the Village of Lancaster Town Hall headlines the corner window display at Scarlette’s Collectibles and Christmas, which features a man pulling a tree-toting sled while his wife accompanies him. In the foreground, a boy amusingly stands atop the shoulders of his friend in the snow. The big clock atop the brick building reads 4:05 – about five hours before the piped-in music along Central Avenue goes silent until the next day.

Whether over age 50 or a child with visions of sugarplums, Christmasville is a winter wonderland in the heart of the village that’s sure to captivate the child in all of us. Linda Costa laments that these days “the little towns have kind of died,” as big city “sophistication” has supplanted the simpler times, about which so many of us reminisce.

Fortunately, Virginia – yes, there is a Santa Claus. For 27 days in the Village of Lancaster, music fills the air, people get out of their cars, chat with one another, and linger as if time is standing still here. And maybe it is. Maybe we really are in Bedford Falls.

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Puppets retouched by Michelle Costa
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Thomas Kazmierczak & Linda Costa
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