Deb Antoniades has almost seven decades of Christmas memories in Rochester, and she is still nostalgic about holiday time at Sibley's Department Store.
She would visit each year as a child when she was growing up in Irondequoit, and then years later with her own daughter, Kate.
"We used to make sure that we got there first thing," she said. "We would dress our daughter in a new Christmas dress and special black patent leather shoes. "
Antoniades would love to recapture the experience.
"Walking into Magic Corridor," she said, "you had a sense of innocence which I wish we could access now with things that are going on, not only in our country, but around the world."
Well, it turns out you can revisit this part of Rochester's past.
Even though Sibley's hasn't been around for over 30 years, dozens of animatronic elves, Santa and Mrs. Claus characters that once thrilled kids young and old in the department store's Toyland and Magic Corridor have been brought back to life.
"A lot of them had broken arms. The antlers on the reindeer were missing; they needed to be fixed and painted. And so, it has been a labor of love," said Ken Greene, vice president of commercial development for Winn Companies, which owns Sibley Square, the current iteration of the landmark building on East Main Street.
Greene is not a Rochester native, but eight years ago, when he spotted the handcrafted Christmas figures stored in the basement of the Sibley Building, he knew they were special.
He is a hobby craftsman and he's spent the last two months dusting off, painting, and restoring the beloved figures. Greene had some help with the mechanical parts from Martin Reinhardt, a technician at The Strong Museum of Play.
"He came in with his little screwdrivers, his oils and lubricants, and tapped there and pushed here, and suddenly, something that hadn't moved in decades was doing something. He brought them to life," Greene said. "He was like a heart surgeon."
A public unveiling of the display is scheduled at 4 p.m. Friday at the Mercantile on Main food court at Sibley Square. Unlike the original Sibley's setup where Santa's workshop was inside a series of interior window displays, the refurbished version occupies one continuous space. Visitors will walk beside a low, white picket fence to see elves painting, building toys, and ironing Santa's coat.
"The movement moves along the display so that there's always activity happening in different parts of it at different times," Greene explained.
He hopes older Rochesterians will introduce younger members of their families to the old holiday tradition.
"There's so much chaos going on around the world," he said. "To come in here (and) rekindle and share the past with the next generation. ... I think we have a lot to be grateful for."
The display is set up near the East Main Street Entrance of Sibley Square. You can't miss it. It's located to the right of the historic clock that was once a gathering point for generations of Sibley’s shoppers.