SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Many Utahns have memories of heading into downtown Salt Lake City near Temple Square to the old Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) department store every winter to take in the extravagant displays of the so-called “candy windows.”
It was a tradition that began in the 1970s. ZCMI’s visual team would work year-round, designing and crafting magnificent displays of fairy tales and National Parks made out of candy. For nearly five decades, the candy windows have been in the heart of the downtown holiday season.
“I remember one year that really stood out to me was all the memorable parks,” Alicia Richmond told ABC4. “They had Zion’s National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Arches in Moab. Those windows were scenes from the National Parks in Utah.”
In the late 1990s, ZCMI was acquired by the May Department Store Company, and, in 2006, it was merged into and rebranded as Macy’s. Throughout the transition, the candy windows were placed on the back burner, gone but never forgotten in the minds of thousands of Utahns, including Richmond.
Richmond now works as a freelancer, doing community outreach and public relations for Macy’s in Utah. Since 2011, Richmond has worked with Macy’s and various artists in presenting the modern-day holiday displays: candy ornaments that hang triumphantly in the very same ZCMI candy windows.
In 2011, once the dust had settled, Richmond said Macy’s was looking for ways to connect with its communities. The nationwide company has always been a champion in holiday tradition, with its own Parade Division that oversees the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“There is just a lot of tradition and a lot of communities that Macy’s has a really strong presence in and tries to keep those traditions happening,” said Richmond. “There was so much community outreach [in Utah] and that’s one thing that Macy’s heard over and over. The community missed the candy windows.”
For nearly a decade, the candy windows were missing from downtown Salt Lake, but Macy’s worked to bring them back.
Richmond told ABC4 that Macy’s wanted to follow ZCMI’s lead and keep the tradition of family togetherness and outing alive but wanted to add their own bit of flavor. Instead of a dedicated team that would craft candy windows, Macy’s would instead hand it over to the community to design and create beautiful ornaments.
Macy’s chose to go with ornaments as it was a format that could be done year after year with different guest artists, according to Richmond. While ZCMI had its dedicated team, Macy’s wanted to have the artistic community behind it.
“You have to be a local artist to be featured in the window,” said Richmond. “We have artists in the community who come and create and design these windows. They start in the summer by sending the Macy’s creative team a sketch of what they would like to do. A review community goes over all the designers and the designers are selected.”
If chosen, Macy’s provides the artists with all the candy they need and the artists get to work. In garages, studios, friends’ homes, every local artist makes their own ornaments – sometimes with the help of friends and family members.
Every artist adds their own flair to the ornaments. This year, Jennifer Vesper, a local Utah artist, and owner of an at-home cake business called Layers of Love, wanted to handmake every piece of candy for the window display. Every piece of her ornament is made with blown isomalt. (Think blown glass but with sugar.)
Since 2011, local artists have been bringing back the tradition of the holiday candy windows. Despite a brief hiatus, the tradition of the windows is still alive and well with a whole new generation enjoying the magic and wonder.
“When I go out on Main Street, I’ll hear family members bringing their children and talking about ‘When I was a little kid, my grandma brought me to see the ZCMI windows,'” shared Richmond. “It’s so fun to see that going on into the next generation.”