Back in the day when Brandeis was the area's premier department store and downtown Omaha was the place to do your shopping, a holiday tradition entranced generations of children.
The elaborate Christmas window displays in the Brandeis building, especially the animated scene that was a showstopper at the corner of 16th and Douglas Streets, played an integral part in the magic of the season.
Thousands of people would flood downtown to get their first peek at the new window displays and downtown lights. But in the 1960s and '70s, the suburbs and malls began to draw people away from downtown retailers during the holiday season. The downtown Brandeis store eventually closed in 1980.
Elizabeth Moran, who now lives in Mesa, Ariz., said in an email that the windows were important to her family. “We couldn't wait to see what they came up with every year. ... I sure miss it.”
Joy Borchman of Omaha said she remembers the windows as “the height of my Christmas season.”
Other stores downtown — Kilpatricks, Goldsteins, Herzbergs, Penney's — decorated their windows too, she said, but the Brandeis display was what children eagerly awaited each year.
“When I was little, downtown was it,” Borchman said. “The Brandeis window was the best because it catered more to children than the others. Santa was on the 10th floor, and I remember it was always hot. We were dressed in winter clothes and coats.”
“The windows were wonderful,” said Laurie Sieg of Lincoln. She grew up in Wahoo, and the family made an annual pilgrimage into Omaha to see the lights and the windows.
“We drove in every year and we would get so excited when we got to the house on Dodge Street with a squirrel statue on the roof (about where the University of Nebraska at Omaha is now). We knew we were finally in Omaha and getting close.”
Along with the windows, she remembers going inside to see Santa and, if they didn't have to wait in the Santa line too long, there was a visit to her favorite thing, a ride on a little train through Toyland. “It was magical.”
Borchman says she watches the movie “A Christmas Story” every year because it takes her back to her childhood. She doesn't remember exactly when the holiday windows stopped, but she still misses them.
“Christmas was a time for those kind of traditions to be made,” Sieg said, regretting that her son and grandchildren hadn't gotten to see those old windows.
“I wish my children and grandchildren had that opportunity,” Borchman said.
Both women were happy to learn that today's kids may see the window tradition return to Omaha. This year Midtown Crossing will offer “Miracle on Farnam,” 14 elaborately designed windows along Farnam Street.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1067, email@example.com