In downtown Minneapolis, floating, twirling umbrellas have taken over one of City Center's storefront windows, along with a couple of penguins and a 6-foot spoon, scattering faux sugar. At the center of it all stands a statue of Mary Poppins, the storybook nanny.

"Her magic is getting away from her and has taken over in the most whimsical way," said artist Kada Goalen, describing her concept for reprising the star of Dayton's 2006 holiday show.

Goalen, a St. Paul native, grew up going to the department store's annual displays — 3-D versions of kid-pleasing tales such as "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Cinderella."

In fact, those eighth-floor fantasy worlds sparked Goalen to become a noted mural artist. "I remember the magic of it," she recalled. "It was a big deal, getting dressed up to see the figures on display and the wonderland that they created."

Goalen's vignette is one of 10 created by local artists to reintroduce the vintage Dayton's figurines to Nicollet Mall storefronts, as of Nov. 25. Downtown boosters hope that the seasonal displays, along with four pop-up shops, can fill the hole left by Holidazzle's hiatus and promote the city's core as a holiday destination.

Reviving a tradition

Between 1963 and 2016, the Day­ton's (and later Macy's) hol­i­day dis­plays turned a day downtown into a holiday tradition for many Minnesota families, drawing rough­ly half a mil­lion peo­ple annually at their peak.

Over the decades, a huge team of artists sculpted and hand-painted thousands of animatronic figures — from reindeer and elves to Peter Pan and Harry Potter — and built elaborate, custom-made sets. When the downtown Minneapolis Macy's was shuttered, the figures were dispersed among local institutions, private collectors and even Duluth's Bentleyville light show.

Hennepin The­atre Trust acquired several dozen figures and connected with the Minneapolis Downtown Council about putting them on display. Shannon Fitzgerald, the council's director of downtown partnerships, hopes the window scenes will generate the same warm feelings cultivated by the original Dayton's/Macy's shows, which brought people together to share an experience. And given that the vignettes will be accessible to all passersby, she noted, even more people can enjoy them.

Fitzgerald explained how spreading the figures out along Nicollet and presenting them in unique scenes dovetails with the approach downtown is taking to reinvent itself as retail and office use has diminished.

"Involving a number of different artists enables us to see a number of different perspectives, innovations and ideas, which really symbolizes what we're doing downtown," she said. "How do we look at a lot of ways to solve the problem from a lot of different perspectives?"

Imagination gone wild

Over at the Dayton's Project, creating a chocolate landscape for a pair of Nutcracker dancers allowed Betsey Giles to realize an unfulfilled dream: Decades ago, she'd applied for a job as a store window dresser, but didn't get the gig.

The Columbia Heights-based multimedia artist (she calls herself the Rockin' Octopus, because she has tentacles in everything from stagehand work to event decorating to fashion design) designed a giant box of bonbons that looks good enough to eat. Though visitors will unfortunately have to use their imaginations to envision the once-animated dancers' twirls and steps.

"She's got some loose wires on her and is not functioning at all," Giles explained. "And when we plugged him in, he just made a very loud grinding noise."

Down the street at Meet Minneapolis, Jerry Carlson and his son Cyrus, 15, of Lindstrom, Minn., turned the Scandinavian elf houses they've been building into a habitat for Ratty and Mole, from 1995's "Wind in the Willows."

The father-son duo previously displayed their small wooden houses at the Lake Harriet Ice Shanty Projects, which inspired them to create an ice-fishing scene for Holidays on Nicollet. The Carlsons accessorized the elf-cum-rodent houses with papier-mâché toadstools, an antique ice scoop, minnow bucket and pole, and then positioned the unlucky fisherman to roast marshmallows over a faux campfire.

Kids can drop letters for Santa into Ratty and Mole's mailbox, Jerry noted. He hopes that interactive element will deter kids from doing what they really want to do — try to get inside the charming abodes — which several attempted on Lake Harriet. "One kid was kicking in the windows," Jerry recalled. "One was digging a hole underneath. I had to grab his feet and drag him out."

Not so great for the artists' creations — but proof they were working their magic.

As part of the windows' unveiling, Meet Minneapolis will host an informal open house from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Nov. 25.

The figures will be on display through Jan. 5, as will pop-up shops (at 50 S. 6th St., City Center, IDS Center and U.S. Bancorp Center) each Tue.-Sat. from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

For more information on Holidays on Nicollet storefront windows and the pop-up shopping, along with artist bios, visit

Correction: Previous versions of this story misspelled the last name of Karen and Steve Butts in a photo caption.