Photos from the Vault

Window painting a sign of the holiday season

Nina Spear rolls a holiday greeting on a window at Pismo Beach Liquors in 1981.
Nina Spear rolls a holiday greeting on a window at Pismo Beach Liquors in 1981. Telegram-Tribune

Old-timers remember when the best coffee was at home and shopping required going out of the house.

Stores would put a lot of effort into making window displays look good, including hiring window painters.

I try to keep in mind that shopping locally helps keep dollars in the community, including hiring window painters and paying for streets and parks. Online shopping, while convenient, does little or nothing to support the local tax base or keep local folks employed.

Checking the phone book, I found almost 40 listings for window cleaners, but I couldn't find one for window painters, though I know they still exist.

Reporter Ann Fairbanks of the Telegram-Tribune wrote about what would become an endangered species Nov. 28, 1981:

Holiday cheer

Mother-daughter team's goal: Money

Nina Spear got tired of washing the brushes while her mother painted windows with candy canes and candles, Santas and snowmen.

So the 15-year-old entrepreneur bought out her mother's holiday window painting business this year, purchased a business license for Nina Spear & Co. and hired her mother, Betty Wasil, as a brush washer.

"I wanted to do it my way," Nina explained after finishing one of her first windows of the season at Pismo Beach Liquors near her home.

For $100, Nina spent one hour on a recent afternoon outlining two of the store's windows with snow, brushing on a top-hatted snowman with a flowing scarf, candy-cane striping the word "Noel" and highlighting the scene with "style stars."

"You better hit it, Nina. I don't want you to catch cold on this window," her mother said, ducking under the awning to escape the early afternoon rain.

"I usually keep track of the time," Wasil explained. "During window-painting season, we sometimes have five to 15 windows to do in one day.

"You just have so many hours of daylight, and it's hard to keep a window relaxed and fluid-looking if your hands are cold." This year, Nina expects to depict Christmas scenes on some 15 windows, among them those at the Shorecliff Inn in Pismo Beach; the Farm Boy restaurants in Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria; Howard Johnson's in San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria; McLintock's and Swensen's in San Luis Obispo. Nina hopes to gross $1,500.

"Our first year, eight years ago, we made $50," Wasil recalled. "We sold windows for $3 and $5 and thought a $10 window was a fortune."

The prices gradually increased to this year's minimum of $50.

"Most are a flat $100," Nina said.

Acknowledging that her mother is the real artist in the venture, Nina said she's "more into the business aspect of it."

"I've always done the bookkeeping, and this year I just went out and got all the accounts, Nina said. " I love to get the money rolling in."

"You see, I'd like to go to Harvard," the Arroyo Grande High School junior explained. "I've always been a good student, and I want to be a lawyer. Actually what I really want to become is a judge, but I know you have to be a lawyer for about four years first."

The would-be lawyer got into the window-painting business at age 7 when her mother learned the recipe for water-based paint that won't wash off.

"We were in Bakersfield and I saw a man in his 70s painting windows," Wasil said. "He told me to take notes, that he would tell me how to mix the paints so you can put a power hose to it."

After adding three secret ingredients to regular poster paint, Wasil was in business, painting holiday windows with Nina's help.

But the tempo picked up to about an hour per window after Nina inaugurated the roller technique.

"One day while we were doing a $35 window she ran across the street and sold a real big window for $100," Wasil recalled. "I told her we couldn't do it for that because it was so big." But Nina thought about it and figured if you can paint houses with rollers you can paint windows with them, too."

"So I designed the roller technique," Nina said, "and pretty soon I was buzzing right past my mother."

It wasn't long before she convinced her mother to let Nina run the business.

"It really gets you into the Christmas spirit," Nina said. "and I love to get the money rolling in."