Higbee's holiday nostalgia once again takes center stage at JACK Casino

For many longtime Clevelanders, the holidays conjure up memories of downtown shopping trips to the former Higbee’s Department Store in Public Square. Images of ornate arches, ribbons, and even Bruce the Spruce come to mind during the holiday season.

Of course, the nostalgia surrounding the historic 1931 Higbee Building at 100 Public Square isn't strictly limited to the holidays—as evidenced by current office tenants like Quicken Loans incorporating Higbee’s décor into its modern office design and the famous 10th floor (known for its fashion shows and Silver Grille restaurant) recently going up for lease.

But as the holidays approach, JACK Casino—located within the building—has again transformed the casino and the windows lining Public Square into a whimsical wonderland called Holidays at the Higbee. For the sixth year straight, casino officials are using traditional Higbee’s holiday décor to rekindle memories of holidays past, while at the same time creating a whimsical, colorful display of present-day joy.

JACK Casino unveiled this year’s holiday displays inside the casino and in the exterior windows last Wednesday, Nov. 27.

“We try to take the elements and classics from the department store and add whimsical colors and storybook characters to give it a modern element,” says Malea Garfield, JACK’s director of marketing. “It’s a staple, and everyone looks forward to it.”

Vintage décor includes the original “Seasons Greetings” sign, the 22-foot-tall Christmas tree adorned with photos of the former Higbee’s store, and decorated lighted arches. “Because we’re in such a historical building and with the [seasonal] events in Public Square, we took it to a new level,” says Garfield of their efforts. “Every single item on the tree is original—with photos of when this was a department store, the ribbons, the garland, the string of lights, the ornaments.”

Garfield says the JACK Casino designer happened upon the iconic Higbee tree a few years ago while sorting through crates of stored materials. “She was just given this crate, [and] she didn’t know what it was,” Garfield explains. “Inside, packaged really nicely, was the tree. No one knew it was there.”

Inside the casino, local interior design firm Room 2 Room decked the gaming halls with vibrant pops of color, quirky storybook characters, and additional sparkling decorations inspired by the holiday décor that made the Higbee Building famous. Guests may also catch the well-known Dr. Seuss character who attempted to steal Christmas.

On the exterior, the windows lining the building are also in the spirit. While the central window features a winter village scene featuring animatronic characters gathering around a tree set against a hand-painted background, JACK Casino also invited 17 Northeast Ohio businesses to decorate the street-side windows.

For instance, A Christmas Story House did a window with the iconic leg lamp from the movie, while Hotcards’ window has a snowman, and Room 2 Room’s window matches the décor the firm chose on the interior of the casino.

“We have a really good list of businesses this year,” says Garfield. “I don’t really have a favorite—there are so many partners who did really cool [windows].”

Other participating businesses include Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Gladiators, Cleveland Monsters, Cleveland Play House, Crocker Park, JACK Thistledown Racino, Playhouse Square, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Rock the House, Studio Floral, Starwood Properties, and SpeedPro Imaging.

The whole display takes quite a bit of preparation, says Garfield. “It’s months of planning,” she says. “And then it takes three to four weeks to install.”

The decorations and window displays will be intact until the first week of January.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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