From across Hennepin Avenue, something caught LoAnne Turner’s eye as she waited to catch a Saturday movie with her girlfriends at the Landmark Uptown Theater.
“It was the colors that grabbed my attention,” she said as she examined the window display of the clothing store Heartbreaker. “Then, of course, the shoes. It’s beautiful.”
The display, a tea party complete with a place setting serving up shoes instead of tea, was part of a University of Minnesota class project.
The women were shocked to learn the display had been entirely designed and constructed by students.
“I hope they got an A,” Turner said.
For the third consecutive year, students enrolled in the Visual Merchandising class through the Department of Design, Housing and Apparel created 14 storefront window presentations for Uptown businesses through a partnership between the University, the American Heart Association and the Uptown Association of Minneapolis.
The window projects, which are on display for about a month and make up 40 percent of the students’ course grades, are inspired by the annual neighborhood Shop and Walk to Wellness Day last Saturday.
Uptown Association Executive Director Maude Lovelle said between 300 and 500 people viewed the students’ work and voted for the best designs that day.
Online voting is open through Friday, when the window displays will be taken down.
Lovelle said she initially invited the University to partner for the annual wellness event to give students hands-on experience and to promote area businesses.
In just a day and a half, 14 businesses jumped at the opportunity to pay $150 to get a group of students to spruce up their windows. Lavelle said she had to create a waitlist for additional interested businesses.
Juanjuan Wu, the course instructor, said many of the participating businesses signed on because it benefitted them as much as students.
She said small businesses lack the budget or personnel to create eye-catching window displays that are vital for success.
“It’s a way for stores to communicate who they are to people,” she said. “Otherwise, if people didn’t know about you, they’d just walk by.”
My Sister’s Closet, which opened its Uptown location about a year ago, was one of the businesses that signed on for this reason.
Owner Rosemary Williams said the store could afford to let the students be creative since it’s a small business with no corporate restrictions.
“I tried to peel back and let them do their thing,” she said after describing the increased traffic the design –– which consisted of five mannequins participating in healthy activities such as biking and walking the dog in style –– has brought into her store. “But I knew a few things I did not want, such as a huge Goldy in my window.”
The windows had to fit the theme, “What’s Goldy up to in Uptown?,” incorporate wellness and fitness for the American Heart Association’s cause and consider the target market and merchandise.
Davanni’s manager Phil Martin said the pizza restaurant signed on after the great attitude of students who did the program last year.
Students tasked with revamping Davanni’s window designed a poster with a pizza box unrealistically piled with vegetables. Satisfying the health element, it reads, “Goldy piles on fresh veggies.”
Students also had to stick to a $100 budget and meet with business owners to develop ideas.
“The biggest challenge was conveying the theme,” said Amanda Arends, a student who worked on the window for My Sister’s Closet. “It was easy to find stylish clothing, but harder to connect it to healthy living.”
Wu said many groups faced problems with communication, keeping a budget and compromising on ideas, which made the experience all the more valuable.
“There are a lot of big challenges with this project,” Wu said. “But we want and expect these situations — this is what these students will have to deal with once they graduate.”
The window display projects face different evaluations throughout the semester, including the vote, a community feedback session at an Uptown restaurant, critiques by a secret panel of celebrity judges and a formal grading rubric.
Lovelle said that though there is some room for improvement, the displays were a good addition to the neighborhood.
“Taking them down will be more bitter than sweet,” said Arends, whose group spent about 20 hours on the project.
“We put a lot into those windows.”