Going Green: The Window Displays of Upper Chapel Street

K nock, knock.
Who’s there?
Window who?
Window they change the window displays on Upper Chapel?

If it’s a holiday such as Christmas or Halloween, the switch-up is immediate. You can’t be caught out with a candy cane on Boxing Day, or a stray ghost on Nov. 1. Look to the future!

So a recent Feb. 15 found the proprietors of side-by-side shops on upper Chapel Street fussing in their front windows, setting out whole new tableaux and still lifes for appreciative window shoppers.

The J.B. London Ltd. Boutique (which sells everything from scarves to bath salts, from ceramic bowls to exotic candy bars) and Geraldine, a florist (“fresh flowers and flower arrangements for any occasion”) are widely known for their wondrous windows. Their shops provide a mid-block oasis of storefront aesthetics, a bright spot amid the offices on the block. They even outshine the new Rudy’s Bar and Grill on the corner.

One of the windows will bloom before your very eyes. Two Wednesdays ago,

Geraldine, a florist
1207 Chapel St., New Haven
(203) 624-4243
Tues-Fri 9am to 5pm; Sat 12-5pm 

J.B. London Ltd.
1209 Chapel St., New Haven
(203) 787-4496
Mon-Sat 11am-7pm; Sun 12-4pm. 

Geraldine Cullinan of ‘Geraldine, a florist’ at 1207 Chapel St. was explaining how her window displays this time of year usually heralded “Pre-Spring. We usually take the Winter window and put the forsythia in there”—a giant potted shrub, several feet tall. This year, Cullinan says, “it’s kind of in-between. We usually don’t have a park bench there. Usually the forsythia is right in front.”

The bench she’s talking about is a wrought-iron-and-wood-planks classic, enlivened with a basket of blue and pink pansies. The giant forsythia looms behind it, eager to bloom. A small plaster model of a golden retriever—a dead ringer for the shop’s real-life canine mascot Sophie—lounges under the bench, which is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” Cullinan announces. “Who?” I  ask.  Well, for one, a five foot tall stuffed animal named Gerald the Gorilla. “People

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complain when he’s not in the window for the parade,” which passes right down Upper Chapel to the New Haven Green.

“This is the awkward time of year for the window. It’s hard to find something appropriate. One year for Easter, we had paper lanterns, and I had to buy a lot of them to get a discount. I made every shop on the street put them in the window.”

“Stephanie,” Cullinan says, “will put in anything green.” Indeed, stroll next door to the J.B. London Ltd. (the “J.B.” stands for “just because”) and the boutique’s manager Stephanie Hug (pronounced “Hoog”) confirms that her theme for March is “every green thing we have in the store.” That means vases, lamps, candles and dangling stained-glass and clay sculptures, one of them a fish with green spots.

Is the color scheme an Irish thing? “Yes, for St. Patrick’s Day—but then what do I do for Spring?,” Hug wonders aloud. “You just try to tell people what you have inside the store. I find it difficult to do, because you want it to look nice.”

Hug puts more effort into the window than she lets on. A friend saunters past the window clutching a strand of Christmas-tree lights. “We’ve been experimenting with different light,” Hug reveals. “We might do a shamrock.”

When Cullinan and Hug were decorating their windows on February 15 and 16, they really did seem to be harbingers of spring.  Behind the times, even, perhaps. Skies were blue and the climate was downright balmy.

That Friday, it snowed. The conditions have been flip-flopping from mild to testy ever since.

Fortunately, nobody expects shop windows to be as changeable as the weather.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites www.scribblers.us and New Haven Theater Jerk (www.scribblers.us/nhtj).

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