MOLINE -- The rest of the Quad-Cities finally has caught up with Kelly Ohlweiler.
Christmas is four days away, but Ms. Ohlweiler has been preparing for it since June. As visual design coordinator for Isabel Bloom, Ms. Ohlweiler arranges displays in the four retail stores that sell the Quad-Cities' favorite sculptures.
Dressing the windows and in-store displays lets Ms. Ohlweiler use her creativity and -- maybe most importantly -- savvy shopping skills.
``I like it enough that it's not really a job,'' Ms. Ohlweiler said, laughing. ``I get to do all this creative stuff and get paid to shop.''
The displays change at least once a season, Ms. Ohlweiler said. The process begins long before anyone else is thinking about Christmas or Easter or the new school year.
Planning for Christmas displays, for example, begins in the summer. Ms. Ohlweiler jots down theme ideas and starts hunting for treasures to accent the Isabel Bloom designs.
``The ornament this year is a rocking horse,'' she said. ``This summer, I found two huge rocking horses and stored them. Now, one is in the Des Moines store and one is in Naperville.''
Ms. Ohlweiler gets display ideas from Isabel Bloom designer Donna Young, sales clerks and customers. She also checks out magazines and catalogs.
``I'll look through them and see how we can apply the ideas to our windows,'' she said. ``Sometimes that's the hard part. They'll have really extraordinarily creative ideas, and I'll think, `How do I put this together?'|''
Christmas planning heats up in October. First, Ms. Ohlweiler inventories the decorative display items used in previous windows. She checks to see that trees, poinsettias, wrapped packages and other accents have stored well. If not, they go on a list to be replaced.
New items and craft supplies get added to the list, too. This year, Ms. Ohlweiler needed chicken wire, cotton batting, rolls of canvas and a dozen other things.
Then, she starts shopping.
``I am out shopping every day two to three weeks in October,'' Ms. Ohlweiler said. ``I probably visit every craft store in the area at least once a day.''
She also haunts antiques shows and shops, floral supply stores, furniture stores, second-hand shops and other interesting places.
In her workroom at the Davenport store, Ms. Ohlweiler lets her creative crafting ability flow. This year, she painted a paper mache Santa face that hangs on a door in the window display at the Moline store. She also painted the ski lodge scene and Santa's Workshop window backdrops and made the fluffy snowmen.
Then it is time to put everything together. For the Moline display windows, Ms. Ohlweiler puts up Christmas trees, hangs backdrops, covers the window floor with cotton ``snow'' and arranges packages, tools, skis, sleds and skates.
She decorates the in-store trees, hangs the garland and winds the lights. Everything is arranged to show off the sculptures for which Isabel Bloom is famous.
Holiday displays must be finished by Thanksgiving, in time for the first rush of Christmas shoppers. When she finishes decorating one store, she moves on to another.
``I keep in touch with the out-of-town stores, and if they need something, I'll get it here and send it up on our truck,'' Ms. Ohlweiler said. ``I usually go visit them about once a month.''
Displays vary between the stores, depending on the size and shape of the store and windows. The Moline windows can be seen from inside and outside the store, but the Davenport ones are only seen from the outside. The West Des Moines store windows are not well-suited to full displays.
Ms. Ohlweiler's responsibilities do not stop there. She also designs displays at the Quad City International Airport, Davenport's Steeplegate Inn, the Festival of Trees and Symphony in Bloom. She coordinates the displays for photo shoots for the Isabel Bloom catalog and must come up with new ideas for every new sculpture.
``Every time a new sculpture comes out, I have to come up with something new to display it,'' Ms. Ohlweiler said. ``I get new ideas to display sculptures we already have, to show the customers different ways to use their own sculptures. I also love to get feedback from them, because it might help me think of something else.''
Visual design coordinator for Isabel Bloom
What she thinks about:
-- Thinning displays: ``I try not to show the hottest items in the window, because I know what's going to happen. They start robbing the display windows when they start running out of sculptures to sell.''
-- Using her creativity: ``That's one of the best parts of the job. I get to paint and go to the craft stores, and that was a hobby of mine before I ever got the job.''
-- Taking turns: ``I rotate the first store to be decorated for each season, because one store will be decorated a whole week earlier than the other. I might do the Davenport store first at Christmas, then the Moline store for Valentine's Day, then the Naperville store for Easter.''