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Second Street District gets a holiday makeover

It’s an opportunity few people will ever have – and college students from across Central Texas say they’ve taken full advantage of it.

For the sixth straight year, several businesses in downtown Austin’s trendy Second Street District have handed over creative control of their storefronts during the all-important holiday shopping season.

Instead of leaving it to trained professionals, shops such as Austin Rocks, Hemline, League of Rebels and Toy Joy let up-and-comers from the Art Institute of Austin, St. Edward’s University and Texas State University craft Christmas-themed window displays that are now available to view.

It’s not just for fun – there’s money on the line, too, in the form of gift cards and college scholarships.

“Window displays are the main thing that pulls consumers into stores,” said Brittany Allen, an Art Institute instructor. “There’s a huge demand out there. Businesses desperately want visual merchandisers. We didn’t have any shortage of willing participants.”

This is the first year the Art Institute has participated in the month-long Holiday Window Walk event, with fashion design, fashion retail management and interior design majors all taking part, Allen said. Behind-the-scenes work started a couple months ago, with students meeting with shopkeepers, sketching out designs and shopping for items needed to make their visions a reality.

“Every single team I’ve put together did something A-to-Z different,” Allen said. “They’re all top notch.”

Art Institute student Jessa Pasion said participating in the competition gave her experience she plans to tout on her resume when it comes time to land a job post-graduation.

“Visual merchandising is such a big deal during the holidays,” she said. “It was definitely challenging, in a good way. In addition to focusing on aesthetics, it also helps you improve your communication skills.”

Themes this year range from “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” at Rae Cosmetics to “The Naughty List” at Prize.

“It was a great opportunity to see what it’s like, what all goes into this,” said Art Institute student Tia Clermont. “It’s been such a great collaboration. All the constructive feedback, in particular, has been so great.”

The window displays will remain up throughout the holiday season, according to Second Street District marketing director Shana Ogg, including during several special events, such as a holiday sip and stroll Dec. 8 and at the new-this-year Santa Lounge at 3Ten ACL Live Dec. 10.

“It’s really generous of these businesses to donate their storefronts to these students,” Ogg said. “This is the most important time of the year for them.

“Last year was very successful – probably our most successful year yet – and this year we’re poised to be even more successful. These students are eager, they’re hungry and they’re excited.”

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