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By Lana Hall

At the St. Louis Bar and Grill in the Atrium, a plastic Santa is kissing the window. He wears a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey and brandishes a chicken leg amongst a tangle of Christmas lights and tiny holiday ornaments.

Ryerson retail management student James Ng, the window’s designer, says he is “merging the holiday spirit with the restaurant’s sports theme.”

Ng is one of 22 students, most from Ryerson’s retail management program, starring in Window Wonderland — a project with the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area (B.I.A.) and 15 local retailers to design storefront windows that celebrate and sell. The challenge: within a month, and with $100, transform store windows to reflect the holiday magic.

Students who applied and were chosen were paired at random with interested retailers from Queen Street to Gerrard Street (between Bay and Yonge).

On Dec 3, a judging panel will select the winning display. The first place snags a night out on the town for them and a guest, including dinner and one night’s stay at Delta Chelsea Hotel.

“Our plan was to develop a signature event,” says Monica Kocsmaros, Marketing Manager of B.I.A. “We’ve been hearing from a lot of people that Toronto is losing its holiday magic. It’s not the same as it was when they walked through downtown with their parents.” At Bay Street’s Great Cooks on Eight, everyone is staring at a tree of green olive oil tins. Designer, third-year retail student Jennifer Hutton, gazes around the media crowd with big eyes. “This is exciting,” she says. “I didn’t expect it to be so big.”

Owner of Great Cooks, Esther Benhaim, is busy pouring tea. “She really captured what we’re about,” says Benhaim, gesturing to Hutton and the window. “The simplicity works.”

In addition to making an appealing visual statement, Kocsmaro explains a window must “reflect the business’s products and services.”

Amy Lu and Natasha Xuereb, retail students and the designers of the Elmwood Spa’s window, kept that in mind. “We went with the spa theme so we could bring out the business’s products,” says Xuereb, a first-year student. “We brainstormed, we sketched and we talked with the business owners.”

Down the way, first-year retail student Diliana Karaleeva poses for photographs and gives her perspective on the importance of a window.

“For a restaurant,” she says, “marketing is all about bringing customers in and making them feel like they’re dining at home; not in some fast food restaurant.”

Karaleev’s 35 Elm Ristorante win said dow is hung with tealights and beaded wreaths. On one shelf, tiny figurines skate inside a glass castle. “It took me almost all day to paint the snow on the window though,” she says.

Liz Evans, director of the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management, said, “It’s been a tremendous opportunity for them to express their creativity,” she says. “And they’ve really had a chance to connect with the community.”

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