A store with a view

Susan Braun writes “Get rid of the fake windows” in Minneapolis’ Downtown Journal (via Planetizen).  Her particular gripe is with chain stores that try to replicate their auto-oriented suburban models in the city.  She calls out CVS Pharmacy in particular for its fake windows, which she deems worse than blank walls because they pretend to be something they’re not.  I wrote about windows as walls in When does a window become a wall?, and Braun has an elegant way of articulating the urban preference for real windows.

CVS…is taking the anti-pedestrian environment to an extreme.  A review of three of their urban locations…yields at least 10 different ways to block windows or in other ways destroy an interior-exterior connection and a sense of street vitality and safety.  As you walk by these stores, here’s the view:  The backside of display shelves, blank walls built into the windows, blinds pulled all the way down, film over the windows, walls built into the windows with generic advertising on them, a view into a poorly organized storeroom, a view into the chaos of the backside of sinks and counters in the photo area, a wall with a shelf of gift bags stuffed with tissue paper (how symbolic — empty gift bags), a wall with a shelf of teddy bears with their backs to the street, and the crowning jewel is a display of once lovely prints, now an eerie green as the red ink fades, of the lost historic urban streetscape.  I take this one as the ultimate insult….

In these examples, the window has been exploited in its crudest and emptiest form — as an image, not as an experience.  It is window as wall, not window as view.  Windows are about views into and out of buildings.

blank-walls-055I like the simplicity of thinking about “window as view.”  And Braun takes my discussion one step further to also consider views out of buildings, to consider the workers and shoppers inside stores looking out.  Windows are for viewing in and for viewing out.  Pretty simple, right?

Many Milwaukee Avenue storefronts, however, are victims of “fake-window syndrome.”  What are the worst offenders in your view?  Are there windows where it’s okay to obstruct the view?  Any compliments for a store with a view?

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5 Responses to A store with a view

  1. Christopher says:

    In DC the CVS’s use their windows to display historic photos from the neighborhoods they are in.

    I think that’s the irony/final insult Braun raised, that they’re showing photos of how the neighborhoods used to look when windows functioned like windows: with a view. ~ Lynn

  2. Andrew Dribin says:

    No fan of chain stores with fake windows, I completely agree that a window with a view is of vital importance to street life. However, one new establishment – the recently opened Whistler at 2421 N Milwaukee Ave – does not share that attitude and it works well for them. Granted, this is far from a chain store establishment, but few places violate the window with a view attitude more than their storefront. They use it as a gallery display wall akin to the way Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) uses their State Street views. Despite not having any visibility, it piques my curiosity every time I walk-by (even at 7am in the morning when I know nothing is going on) and provides the image they are looking for as a hybrid Gallery/Bar space. It is an unusual space with a unique approach to the issue raised regarding a store with a view. Though subtle, it helps provide visual activity to the street life of Milwaukee Avenue. We need more people and places to question the potential value and use of a storefront.

    Andrew: You’re right. Nightclubs want/need to block the light from the window. Due to when they operate, even the people inside are not seeking light/a view from the window. And kudos to The Whistler for finding a still stimulating way to do it. I’m inclined to grant, if you will, an exception in this case, but it could be a problem if it were to become the dominant use of windows on a street.

    And have you seen the window a bit further south with the dance steps? ~ Lynn

    • Andrew Dribin says:

      Hi, Lynn.
      I walked down Milwaukee this morning looking for dance steps. I didn’t see any. I am going to keep looking tho. Are they on the same side of the street as The Whistler?

      It took me some time to swing by there. I wanted to make sure it was still there and direct you accordingly. So I did, and it’s at 2351, corner of Milwaukee and Medill on the east side of the street. ~ Lynn

  3. Diana says:

    It’s perplexing why stores back their shelves up to the windows, as Susan writes, “As you walk by these stores, here’s the view: The backside of display shelves…” Like putting the fridge in front of the kitchen window. Many retailers have the inside merchandising down to a science, but need to adapt it, in a common sense way, to the store’s 360 environment.

    Diana: Square peg; round hole. That’s where chain stores used to operating in suburban, car-centric environments fail when trying to tap into the urban markets. Maybe a way to attack it would be through their corporate responsibility departments. Now as for the local businesses that use display windows for storage or plaster them with signs, they could use some merchandising help. ~ Lynn

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