At Once All Agog

With Halloween on the horizon, specialty toy retailer Candace Gooch was feeling the pressure. Her holiday window display was still “all up here” (index finger tapping head), but it soon had to be front and center. “I’m always just a little too late getting started,” she told me from her store in Cornish, Maine. “I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep the last three nights obsessing about it. But once I have it in my mind, I always make it work.”

Yes she does. In the nine years since she opened At Once All Agog, her store’s windows have been keeping her community surprised and amazed (“all agog,” in fact) and eagerly anticipating what’s next. To see Candace’s display artistry, pop onto Pinterest or visit the store’s Facebook page. “I’m really not an artist, but I think I have a good imagination,” Candace says.

She credits Anthropologie’s award-winning windows for some of her ideas, but says that inspiration can come from anywhere. Last Christmas, it came from her basement. “It began with this old door I had there,” Candace explains. “We put it in the window with oversized envelopes – letters to Santa – piling up under its mail slot. One of my employees exchanges artist trading cards with people all over the world, so she asked them how kids in their countries addressed letters to Santa. Those were the addresses we used on our envelopes.”

Candace’s two 8-foot-by-7-foot windows flank the store’s entrance. One is reserved for a show-stopping display, and the other for products arranged on an antique counter. “We’re located in the heart of Cornish’s antique-shop district, so the counter attracts the attention of shoppers who would not necessarily look in a toy-store window,”
she explains.

Among her window-display challenges are lighting (“How can I get more?”), and portraying action. “Unlike stores in New York City, my display elements aren’t motorized so I have to somehow create the illusion of movement,” Candace says. “If you look at the elf on the ladder in last year’s window, you can imagine that he’s really balancing and reaching to decorate the tree.”

Candace has a small cache of display props she’s collected over the years, including five elves made locally and a large snowman created by a friend.

“He’s fabulous,” she says. “He’s made out of white chenille fabric and many white sweaters we hunted down in thrift stores.”

The snowman is versatile, starring in holiday displays that segue into winter-themed ones. “One year, I exchanged some of his streaming snowflakes with pink and red hearts, and he took me right into Valentine’s Day,” she says.

If you’ve been wondering what Candace has in mind for this year, imagine a Christmas-tree-shaped stack of 8-inch alphabet blocks topped with colorful Schylling sock monkeys, or a Brio egg-carrying ant or two. The idea came from holiday centerpieces pictured on Pinterest. Thinking out loud, Candace said, “If I can get the price right on the blocks … they’ll be natural wood and black because the company does wood burning. I’ll have to elongate the stack a little to fit in the window… hmm…”

I can’t wait to see it.

by Tina Manzer

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