What's in a Picture?
Department store Santa.
J.R. Libby Co., Portland’s third biggest department store to open at the end of the nineteenth century, offered holiday deals too good to pass up. The best one, at least according to two gentlemen in suits and top hats, was the opportunity to pose with the store’s display window Santa Claus, looking as if they all just drank too much eggnog. The display windows — be they of a seemingly inebriated Saint Nick or a patriotic George Washington next to his horse during Washington’s Birthday — helped signal to customers special holiday sales going on across the store’s twenty-three departments.
J.R. Libby (who owned the famous Victoria Mansion in Portland’s West End), opened the three-level store in 1896 at the intersection of Oak and Congress streets, and advertised it as the “the largest, best lighted ( 100 percent sunlight) store in North Eastern America.” The store may have only lasted until 1935 and never gained the same reputation for window displays as Saks Fifth Avenue or Barneys, but by being one of the first major stores in that section of Portland, it laid the foundation for what is today one of the most vibrant streets in the state. —Will Bleakley
Photograph Courtesy Maine Historic Preservation Commission