When 40-year-old Jamaica Plain resident Christopher Sawyer was a young boy growing up just outside Worcester, he spent many weekends at the Denholm & McKay Co. Department store. Nicknamed "The Boston Store" (but not to be confused with Boston Store), Denholms was the largest New England department store outside of Boston until it closed in 1975. Sawyer often shadowed his late grandmother, Josephine Carbone, who started working at the store in 1945 as a stock girl and moved her way up to Divisional Merchandise Manager at a time when few women were part of the executive team.
Sawyer, who is now the creative director at the Boston Ralph Lauren store, said his grandmother's influence on him has been immeasurable. So when he visited the remains of the Denholm & McKay store almost two years ago, he was disheartened to see the sad, eroding facade of the building and other offices in the area. Fondly remembering the beautiful Denholm & McKay of his youth, Sawyer took it upon himself to clean up the building's exterior. Since April of 2009, he has worked to restore the building's windows to their 1951 appearance. He has kept a blog about his experience, providing personal thoughts and numerous pictures as the project progresses.
"My goal was two-part: one, to pay tribute to the building and company that stood there, and the second part was to help beautify buildings in the Worcester area that were in really bad shape," he says. Restoring the building's facade included "draping out all of the back walls with sheers, updating the lighting system, and re-introducing the original logo back on the glass show windows," Sawyer explains. He also installed archival images of the store in the windows. All of these improvements—illustrated in the image above—help keep the story of the Denholm's store alive, he says.
"The windows are the eyes and ears of what the building is projecting, whether it be a story or whether it be something for the community," Sawyer says.
The building, constructed in 1871, is now home to several offices of non-profit groups, and Sawyer has started working with some of them to help clean up more windows in the building. He says several Worcester and Boston area resident who have connections in the area have sent him messages of encouragement, as well as their own stories of what Denholms meant to them. Sawyer's efforts were recently profiled in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and he is currently polling people on his blog regarding their hopes for a Denholm & McKay reopening.
"People really don't shop in department stores anymore but back then, that was the main hub where people would meet. They would spend the day and get dressed up. It was a social outing to go to a department store," Sawyer says. "I'm hoping that by showcasing the building, people will have a remembrance of a time gone by. I think it's a way of reminiscing of times gone by when life was a little bit simpler."