By Ryan Cornell
SHENANDOAH COUNTY -- If the eyes are the windows into the soul, then the windows fronting these Shenandoah County stores reveal a soul filled with faux snow, boughs of holly and holiday cheer. Whether it's handcrafted nativity scenes that would fit in a history museum, flamingos and peacocks that heat up the winter cold or a miniature town that would help Tinkerbell feel at home, it's not hard to tell it's Christmas season from driving by.
Best decorated storefront
Where: Wightman Insurance Agency in Edinburg
Designed by: Libby Rocco
Passing by the nativity scene recreated in the front windows of the Edinburg insurance agency, you might just do a double take. The resin figures are so lifelike and the wooden stable so natural, it appears almost like a tableaux vivant.
A bull, sheep and donkey sit on straw watching the birth of Christ unfold in the manger while the story of the three wise men is encapsulated in another window. Lights illuminate the two scenes in front of a painted backdrop of a pasture.
Owner Libby Rocco, who found the 3-foot-tall figures in Chicago with her husband last year, said this is the first time they've used the display.
She said local carpenter Ted Miller created the stable out of wood from nearby trees while its thatched roof came from a church production at Wakeman's Grove Church of the Brethren.
"We wanted the stable part to be rustic because the figures are really refined," she said. "It creates some contrast."
Her husband, Keith Rocco, painted the backdrop. She said she's received many positive comments from people who appreciate the theme of the display.
"I felt like it was so important to have, in the midst of all the glitz and busyness in how we celebrate Christmas, to have something serene and celebrating Christ's birth," she said.
Most detailed display
Where: Generations Creations in New Market
Designed by: Patricia Callis
Each night the miniature town in the window of this New Market beading store lights up and the figures shopping, caroling and ice skating celebrate the end of another day closer to Christmas.
The town, set on a hillside, is bordered by a steam-powered train pulling cars of lumber and divided by a stream cascading down from a lake around a ceramic lighthouse. Groups of children glide across a mirror on their ice skates and hang from the bars of a tiny jungle gym.
Rebecca Swanson, who helps owner Patricia Callis around the store, said the stream and lighthouse are new additions to the collection, which has been steadily growing for the past six years. She said Callis' family and friends often give her buildings as gifts and said the set-up took three days to precisely place everything.
"You don't see people walking on the streets like you used to," Swanson said. "But just about everyone walking will stop and look."
Most successful display
Where: Main Street Flowers and Gifts in Mount Jackson
Designed by: Rhonda Savage
As a florist and designer, decorating the windows of her Mount Jackson flower shop comes naturally to owner Rhonda Savage. Each month, she picks a certain theme -- in January, it's a snowy winter scene, and in February, it's hearts and cupids -- but it's Christmas where she pulls out all the stops.
"A lot of people will wait until I do my window and then they'll do theirs at home," she said.
Her two windows feature reindeer, crafted out of grapevine, beside a park bench underneath an archway strewn with Christmas lights. A 7-foot-tall Christmas tree stands in one window, loaded with red ribbon, candles and specially designed ornaments.
She said the burlap ornaments and stockings, which are part of an "old-time country look" that's trendy now, have proven so popular that she's had to restock the tree three times with them.
"Our windows are the eye to what's in the store," she said. "So whatever's in the window will draw them in and it's helped tremendously."
Most unexpected display
Where: Anna Marie Studio in Woodstock
Designed by: Anna Marie Houghton
When most people think of Christmas, they think of Frosty the Snowman or Jack Frost nipping on noses. Unless you're a Floridian, the sight of tropical birds hardly comes to mind. But at this Woodstock hair salon, a lit-up flamingo and peacock strutting their stuff helps bring a warmer touch to the winter season.
Unorthodox and unexpected like the salon itself, it's described by county tourism director Jenna French as a beachy and kitschy take on the holidays.
Although the pink flamingos have been in the windows since last Christmas, owner Anna Marie Houghton said she added the blue and green peacock just recently.
"It belongs there, the peacock is a little sassy," she said. "It's a hair salon, so a little sassy is okay here."
She said the colors match the "shabby, chic, tacky and fun" atmosphere at her business and attract strangers who often stop and take pictures, including one woman who brought Houghton real peacock feathers from her Manassas peacock farm.
Houghton said she even had a flamingo-themed float prepared for the Woodstock Christmas parade, which was canceled.
"Lit up at night, people that don't know me or know my store, know my windows when they drive through the town and I'm proud of that," she said.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or email@example.com