Monday, November 23, 2009

Day 177/365 Old-Fashioned Christmas Merchandising

Ever find yourself yearning for the good ol'days? Those days when Christmas wasn't so commercial? When the Christmas shopping season didn't begin in August?

Those old-fashioned days when a Philadelphia merchant thought of a great promotional idea allowing kids to come and visit Santa in his store (conveniently located in the toy department), and Montgomery Ward created Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer as a promotional tool, with a full-color picture book given out with every order.

Roanoke Virginia (our nearest little "big" city) had a creative Christmas merchandising idea: 60 years ago tonight for the first time they built and illuminated the Mill Mountain Star, a 100-foot-tall neon star, stuck at the top of Mill Mountain, overlooking the valley.

Previously, all Mill Mountain had was an incline railroad, which is long-gone today, but if you now where to look, the tree lines can still be seen. Today, there has been occasional mention of reinstating the incline, but so far it hasn't happened.

Shortly after the star was finished in 1949, this is what it looked like. Behind it you can see the Franklin County valley stretching towards Rocky Mount. In front of the Star is the scenic overlook.

Form the overlook, this is the city of Roanoke, and the Roanoke Valley.

The same view at night. Roanoke looks for all the world like a beautiful metropolis. Why all those lights are on is beyond me, because this town rolls up it's sidewalks at 10 pm.

A refurbishment in 1997, just to give you an idea of the size. During it's construction, roughly 25 people worked on it, without safety harnesses, in the cold mountain winds. No one got hurt and no one fell. No one really paid much attention to it. It was just another job, a commercial endeavor, a marketing ploy by the local merchants association. No one expected it to stand for 60 years.

Originally, the neon lights were red and white. During the Bicenntennial, blue was added. During the Virginia Tech shootings, the star shone all white. The star is turned on from dusk to midnight, and can be seen for 60-75 miles from airplanes. In 1999, this big Christmas decoration was placed on the National Register of Historic places. Long before this, the city had adopted its nickname from the neon structure: the Star City.

So the next time Christmas seems too commercialized, just remember one of those gimmicks might catch on, and you could be looking at it for the next 60 years.


  1. Very good points! It makes me chuckle to think that these "traditional" things were, at one time, marketing ideas.
    Funny the things that catch on.

  2. As a young boy i remember my family
    visiting roanoke at night during CHRISTMASS to see the star,Now at 70 it brings back fond memories of a better times .J Hogan.