Before shopping malls and giant parking lots, the Christmas season in Stockton always meant a trip downtown to see the window displays. Stores used elaborate exhibits to draw customers for the holidays. Delmar McComb fondly remembers the Breuner’s windows, famous for its moving musical Christmas display. The life-size figures wore authentic costumes depicting seasonal scenes from the era of John Breuner’s first store founded in Sacramento in 1856.
Window displays date back to the early 1880’s, when the use of plate glass made store windows possible. Pioneer stores, such as Yosemite Cash Store and Holden Drug Store, provided for Stockton’s earliest window displays. Specialty clothing and apparel stores, especially along Main Street, found success in advertising their merchandise in the windows. Department stores of the early 1900’s, such as Stockton Dry Goods and Hale’s, relied on crowded displays to advertise the value of their items to pedestrians.
Franchised department stores of the 1920’s began artistically exhibiting only a few choice items in their windows. Stockton’s first franchised department store was Woolworths, followed by Owl Drug Company, J.C. Penney, Kress and others. Clothing stores, such as Katten-Marengo, Bravo McKeegan, Mode O’Day and the Wonder also used elegant window displays. As we continue to redevelop our downtown, let’s remember the historical significance and potential influence of those storefronts.
This article was first published in the Downtown Stockton Alliance in December 2007.