Storefronts are windows to Oxford’s past

DDA Director Kelly Westbrook and Design Committee Chair Nicolette Shagena hang historic photographs of downtown Oxford buildings in the empty storefront windows at 22 N. Washington St.

By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Empty storefronts do not make a town look vibrant. Nevertheless, vacant shop windows can be opportunities in disguise.
Kelly Westbrook, the Downtown Development Authority’s executive director, found a few dozen blown-up black and white photographs of historic Oxford tucked away in the DDA office. After getting permission from the owners of some of downtown’s empty buildings, she and the design committee chair, Nicolette Shagena, created window displays with the vintage photos last week.
The displays went in the former Great Lakes Mercantile at 8 S. Washington St. and Williams Art Glass Studio at 22 N. Washington St. and Oxford Party Shoppe at 18 S. Washington.
Westbrook got the idea from a Main Street America article titled “Windows of Opportunity” by Lisa Morgen. It says, “A vacant storefront is the perfect stage to creatively promote the available space or to showcase other businesses and events in the area. Furthermore, clever window displays can tell a story, educate, entertain, lift spirits, and draw attention to downtowns.”
These photos offer a glimpse into old Downtown Oxford, and a chance to see what some of the same buildings looked like 100 years ago. Westbrook hopes to expand the exhibit to other empty storefronts. The temporary galleries will last only until new businesses move in.
Great Lakes Mercantile and Williams Art Glass Studio have been empty since their owners, Dora Rolando and Karen Williams, retired. After spending time with both owners, Westbrook noticed similarities in their stories.
“Both lost their husbands years back and shut down the stores after they passed,” she said. “The beauty of how much these two women love their stores and love Oxford is truly beautiful. I hope we could honor them just a bit today by sprucing up their windows. It’s a funny thing, here we wanted to just decorate some empty windows, but I left with my heart so full.”

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