Small stage, bright spirits

Storefront attractions bring smiles to both sides of the glass

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By JOSH ADAMS

FOREST PARK FOCUS
For weeks Rich Schauer and a handful of employees at his Madison Street hardware store studied A Charlie Brown Christmas, hoping to pick up on details from the 1965 animated classic that would enhance their own performances. Schauer's Hardware has a reputation for putting on elaborate live window displays during the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce's annual Holiday Walk, and at this year's event, everyone wanted to live up to the billing.

"It's almost like being in the theater where it's opening night and not everything's flowing right," Schauer said about 30 minutes before show time.

A bit of nervousness crept in as the participants wondered whether one of the performers would be on time. There was also a fairly elaborate microphone system to worry about.

Across the street though, Jodi Gianakopoulos was keeping the mood pretty light at Old School Records. A DJ was getting ready to perform in the front window while a funk groove on the house stereo filled the crowded store. There was no sign of the punk rock brass band scheduled to play just outside the front door yet, but Gianakopoulos busied herself setting up a snack bar that featured a bottle of peppermint schnapps.

"The guy who plays the tuba has a band and I said, 'you know what, I'd rather fill them full of liquor and send them out on the street than hire a band,'" she said.

Whether straight or mixed with a little rock n' roll, the holiday spirit was alive and well on Madison Street as hordes of shoppers and gawkers turned out for one of the chamber's most popular events. The theatrics taking place in window storefronts provides a uniqueness to this event that helps kick off the season within the village's retail hotbed.

The same band played last year for Gianakopoulos and never rehearsed before standing in the frigid weather. They were out of tune and sloppy, Gianakopoulos said, and she loved it. Kids walking by were fascinated by the instruments while those of an older generation seemed mesmerized by all the machinery employed by the DJ.

"It was hilarious," Gianakopoulos said. "It was great."

At Heels, a store devoted to playful accessories and a shameless love affair with shoes, Courtney Ryan was decked out in a white evening gown for her role as Cinderella. Prince Charming, a.k.a. boyfriend Adam Bartel, was nowhere in sight.

"He's stuck in traffic," Ryan said as the street began to bustle.

The duo spent the evening re-enacting the glass slipper scene from the Disney classic for passing onlookers. The skit was inspired by a catch-phrase printed on a handful of items sold in the store: "One shoe can change your life."

Meanwhile, Schauer and company were on to the improvisational portion of their tribute to the Charles Schulz classic, and only an hour into the evening. The microphones used to broadcast the dialogue through tiny outdoor speakers weren't working.

With a big grin as he reminisced over the time everyone spent working together building props and learning lines, Schauer revealed a new strategy for entertaining the crowds.

"You wing it," he said.

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