In 1938, a TIME reporter marveled at the artificial snow falling in the display window of Lord & Taylor’s on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Major retailers were just beginning to invest in their displays to entice potential customers ahead of the Christmas shopping spree, and the reporter was impressed.
“All this not only added melody to Christmas shopping but made the Avenue’s 80,000 daily pedestrians acutely aware of an artistic rivalry which has begun to show signs of lustiness,” the reporter wrote in the December 1938 issue.
As that TIME story attests, the competition for consumer dollars over the holidays is nothing new. As far back as the 19th century, the window between Thanksgiving and Christmas has been considered primetime for shopping. In fact, the retail industry was so intent on squeezing the most sales out of that period that they convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to…
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