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Project Holiday

A group of Brandcenter students works to help start a Richmond window shopping tradition in the West End.

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A few years ago Rebecca Floyd moved here from New York, and one thing she really missed was the Big Apple's holiday window displays.

Hoping her child could experience something like them here, she reached out to merchants in the Westhampton area at Patterson, Libbie and Grove avenues and discussed creating similar window displays by working with Brandcenter students from Virginia Commonwealth University, future minds of the advertising world. Within two days, she had 28 stores involved in the West End shopping district, including mom-and-pop retail, banks and high-end women's clothing chains.

The students in instructor Andrew LeVasseur's information architecture class picked clients out of a hat and were given $100 dollars each to buy materials. After consulting with the business owners, they built their approved ideas.

Student Missy Thieman, 29, got Gearharts Fine Chocolates and traveled to the original store in Charlottesville to understand its vision better. She made an oversized box of chocolates out of recycled Tupperware with holiday decorations and a travel theme. Tobi Oluwo, 24, got women's clothing store Sara Campbell and says he looked at general fashion themes that connected to the store and Christmas.

"The prompt we gave students was to invite wonder through windows," LeVasseur says. "The window itself is an interesting format, it has to communicate a lot quickly. Some students are doing more high-concept art, more abstract. Others are using stories. It has to not only be holiday and on-brand, but it has to create engagement."

Lief Anne Stiles, owner of 1z2z3z baby and toddler boutique, says the whole idea is to become an annual Richmond holiday tradition for families. "This year you can walk [the area]. It's shaped kind of like an H," she says. "Hopefully, it will expand to Carytown or possibly West Broad next year."

The first windows were installed Nov. 20, and there will be a free launch event on Friday, Nov. 24, starting at 5 p.m. featuring store events and the one-and-only Christmas Mother. There will also be a panel of special judges deciding a winner for the best window.

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