Q: Enjoying the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is a tradition around our home. What my family wants to know is what do they do with all those costumes and balloons after the parade.
Bob, of Belleville
A: If you ever visit the East Coast, you might try to sneak a peek inside an otherwise ordinary-looking warehouse along the banks of a Meadowlands bog in Moonachie, New Jersey.
Opened six years ago, Macy’s Parade Studio may be as real as Santa’s workshop. Inside this 75,000-square-foot creative beehive, a full-time staff of 30 designs the costumes, creates the balloons and assembles the floats that have dazzled untold millions annually since 1924 (except during World War II). It’s also where the things that can be used for future parades are neatly hung or packed away.
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As you might expect, it’s a year-round job that also includes producing large-scale events for Macy’s such as the Fourth of July fireworks, touring productions, large-scale holiday events and spring flower shows.
“As soon as a parade is over, it’s like, ‘OK, let’s get these ready for the next parade, because we’re on a clock here,’” John Piper, the studio’s vice president, once joked when asked about the careful deflating of the wildly popular balloons after their annual November outing.
It wasn’t always like that. Early on, the balloons simply were released, so they floated upward until they burst. But when a balloon wrapped itself around an airplane’s wing in 1932 and brought it down, Macy’s began taking more appropriate care of of the helium-filled monsters. (The pilots weren’t hurt, but the Tom-Kat balloon lost the last of its nine lives.)
Now, all parade entries come to life in the warehouse. For new floats, models are built from sketches before being turned into the real McCoy. Workers can take advantage of everything from a library of reference books to a painter’s studio that has “every color in the rainbow plus two,” as head painter Beth Lucas once joked. Floats are designed in early spring with production starting in April or May, Susan Tercero, group vice president of special productions at Macy’s, told the New Jersey Record.
As you likely saw this year, the 91st parade boasted five new floats, all heavily animated. For example, The Shimmer and Shine float, based on the Nick Jr. cable TV show, boasted a motorcycle-riding genie, a baby tiger playing hide-and-seek and smoke rising from the genie bottles amidst scads of glitter and beads. Still, the hardest part might have been folding the floats up so they could be hauled through the Lincoln Tunnel en route to the big apple.
Originally made of a cotton fabric, balloons now are fashioned from a nonporous balloon fabric and have to be painted while inflated so the paint doesn’t crack. Although Macy’s won’t say, some estimate it now may cost upwards of $200,000 to bring a new balloon to life. The costumes stored in the warehouse are valued at more than $2 million. After a parade, the staff is left to deal with a mountain of wash — especially the super-expensive Santa and Mrs. Claus outfits that are fashioned from boiled wool and kept in a specially made cedar closet.
So from midnight to 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving, the floats are reassembled, the balloons are inflated and a team of 200 fitters dress nearly 4,000 balloon handlers, children, float escorts and clowns.
“It’s the closest to magic time as you can get,” Piper said of the frantic last-minute preparations. Then, a few hours later, they started preparing for 2018. You can take a second look at the newest floats inside that warehouse at www.northjersey.com/story/news/bergen/moonachie/2017/11/14/macys-parade-studio-debuts-new-floats-91st-macys-thanksgiving-day-parade/852351001.
Q: I bought a house that has the original wide-slatted type of Venetian blinds from the 1950s in most of the windows. When they needed repair, the previous owner would have someone do it, but she passed away before I bought the house and the cloth webbing on several of them need replacing. Who can I call?
Larry Moore, of Belleville
A: You can call the same folks that people in this area have been relying on for 62 years — Drexel House of Drapes at 3721 Lebanon Ave. in Belleville. Jack McAllister founded the business in East St. Louis as Drexel Venetian Blind and Laundry to provide cleaning and repair services for people in the same predicament as you.
He died in 2015, but his son, Jack, carries on the tradition with a full-service company that he incorporated in 1985 to provide drapes and shutters along with blinds as well as repairs. For your problem, it’s $20 per tape, which includes the tape, cord and labor. Call him on his cell at 618-781-2669 or visit www.drexelwindowfashions.com for more information.
Where did Venetian blinds originate?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia:
Long before they had either rifles or horses, Indians of the Northwest Plains survived by driving buffalo over cliffs to their death so they could harvest the meat and hides. This centuries-old practice is commemorated at several sites, including the Madison Buffalo Jump (also called a “pishkun”) State Monument just west of Bozeman, Montana.