5th Avenue, NYC
Written by Gregg Henglein Illustration by Florian Schubert
Sandy Spaeth is president of the company that has for decades created the iconic holiday window displays drawing thousands of Christmas revellers – and shoppers – to New York City’s top department stores, from Macy’s to Saks to Lord & Taylor. For Oryx, Sandy offers a glimpse at the street that serves as the window to New York’s soul.
The bustle of New York City – between towering skyscrapers, speeding taxis, and streets brimming with people – can be equal parts daunting and inspiring. This is amplified at this time of year, when the city is jammed not only with its usual day-in, day-out crowd, but also those who don’t regularly venture to Manhattan, for whom December is the exception, drawn by holiday shopping and scenery.
Sandy Spaeth has been the city newcomer, the daily businessperson and the shopper, as well as part of the creative team that inspires thousands each holiday season to freeze in their tracks – literally, given the chill of a blustery New York winter – in admiration of Spaeth Designs’ artfully crafted window scenes. And for her, everything draws from 5th Avenue.
“It cuts right through the centre of Manhattan, and when I came here 5th Avenue was my compass,” says Spaeth, who first arrived in New York to attend Cooper Union in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
Broadway has the name, but it’s 5th Avenue that’s the city’s heart, and most literally its centre: the division of any street’s East or West designation is 5th Avenue, making it the artery of Manhattan’s lifeblood.
“What I love is if you start at the top you have the Guggenheim, the Met, Central Park…” Spaeth says. “Then you hit the big part, the famous spot with all the stores such as Saks and Lord & Taylor.”
Spaeth of course knows that area well, for it’s where Spaeth Designs has installed its breathtaking window displays – for decades as much a part of Christmas in New York as Sidewalk Santas and Rockefeller Center.
“I would stand in lines outside the displays, stand behind people and hear what they had to say, sharing stories across the generations. I was once with my mother, who kept pushing me, saying, ‘Why don’t you tell them you did that?’ I don’t have to. To stand and wait and listen, that’s reward enough.”
Somewhere along the walk you’ll certainly want to eat. Most establishments are off 5th rather than directly on it. Spaeth’s favourite is Adour at the St. Regis on East 55th St. “If I had to bring a tourist to dinner anywhere along 5th, this is the place,” Spaeth says passionately.
In recounting her days at Cooper, Spaeth mentions her sister, who resided in the dorms of New York University, also located right along 5th Avenue down in Greenwich Village. Nearby sits Washington Square Park, in many ways a contrast with Central Park on the north end of 5th, informal versus refined, though recent renovations at Washington Square have lessened this somewhat. Still, the landmark arch remains.
“One of the themes we did in the past was great sights and places of New York City,” Spaeth says. “We replicated Washington Square Park and the arch. Every day at Cooper my commute was from west village to east village, and every day I would cut beneath the arch. There’s special meaning there.”
As there is everywhere along the magnetic force on Manhattan’s compass, 5th Avenue.
New York, USA
Sandy Spaeth married into the family business, her husband David’s father Walter having founded Spaeth Designs 50 years ago.
While New York is her home and from where the bulk of Spaeth’s business derives, she gleefully declares, “Have ticket, will travel. When we, or our people, travel we tell everyone to keep their eyes open,” she says. “Something you don’t even think about will catch your eye, and we file it away in our brains and we bring it out on an as-needed basis. We’re inspired by everything.”