Katie McKettrick dresses the windows at Ruben's Department Store. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett
Katie McKettrick dresses the windows at Ruben's Department Store. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

Window dresser tells stories through mannequins

People passing Ruben’s Department Store on Broad Street may only see posed mannequins inside the store’s center window — at first glance.

But Katie McKettrick hopes they’ll do a double take. The sales associate and window dresser wants to draw them into the store through the story they tell.

“All the mannequins have names and back stories,” said McKettrick, 20, who started working at Ruben’s in fall 2021. “Their stories dictate their roles in the windows.”

She envisions the central family as a widow whose husband was killed while serving in the military. She has three sons, Benjamin, Henry and Jim. Her husband’s Army buddy (simply known as Dad) has come into their lives to fulfill his promise to her late husband to take care of his family.

MORE: Broad Street Beat: ‘Happy’ birthday

The family has other members who appear in windows. Dad has a twin sister named Dot, who is mom to Ruby. Also, the ladies’ department has two mannequins McKettrick has named Vivian and Helen.

Sometimes, the windows are whimsical such as the Christmas window that featured the family taking a walk in the snow. The window won the most original use of lights in the recent Making Spirits Bright Downtown Decorations Crawl, sponsored by the Downtown Development Authority of Augusta and Augusta & Co.      

McKettrick added a bit of magic to her scene by stringing cotton balls on fishing wire to give the illusion of falling snow.

Katie McKettrick decorates inside the main window at Ruben’s. Courtesy photo

 In April 2022, a golf-themed scene featured the family ready for the Masters, and in May, the Mother’s Day celebrated women and children with multiple mannequins in the center window.

However, the somber side of the central family’s backstory has also come to the window.

For Memorial Day, McKettrick created a simple scene of a boy honoring the grave of his father and thereby honoring others killed in the line of duty.

McKettrick said she primarily designs the windows on the ladies’ apparel side of the store. But her passion for the designing the window has spread. Other sales associates dress the windows on the men’s side. In addition to the focal window, there are others lining the storefront. In early December, she based some of the smaller vignette windows on movies such as The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind and Zebra in the Kitchen.

MORE: Press On Fund to fulfill promise in fight against childhood cancer

McKettrick said she’s always been drawn to the store which was founded in 1898.

 “Ruben’s is a comforting place,” she said. “I’m from Appling so a trip downtown was always a treat.”

She even had her senior photos taken in front of Ruben’s and the Book Tavern.

McKettrick said she likes the store’s vintage appeal. A mannequin collector, she can see the beauty of the workmanship in the store’s figures. She estimates they date from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Katie McKettrick has done some restoration work on some of Ruben’s mannequins. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

Instead of headless plastic models, Ruben’s mannequins were crafted with an attention to detail in their facial features.

 An artist with an affection for the vintage pin-up style, McKettrick said working at Ruben’s fits her perfectly. She’s put her artistic talents to other uses by restoring features on a couple of the mannequin’s faces.

When McKettrick first started at Ruben’s, the window hadn’t been changed in months, giving some people the impression that the store was closed, she said.

But she’s seen the windows bring customers in, and Jeff Gorelick, who along with his wife, Bonnie Ruben, own the store, said the windows have been creating a buzz.

“People talk about them,” he said.

 He said he appreciates her enthusiasm as well as her creativity which is amplified in the windows.

He encouraged her to let Valentine’s Day be the next featured theme, but McKettrick planned to start the New Year with a theme of “Race Into the New Year with Style and Class” featuring mannequins dressed in their finest fashions.

McKettrick plans out the window and ensures she has everything in place before she begins the transformation. She usually finishes in one day, she said.

Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Subscribe to have headlines delivered to your inbox here.

Support Local Journalism

Local stories on local people, organizations and events. That's the focus of Augusta Good News, a member of the Georgia Press Association. And you don't have to go through a paywall to find these stories. An independent voice in Augusta, Ga., Augusta Good News is not funded by a billionaire or a large corporation; it doesn't have celebrity reporters who have agents. It's local people who are invested in the community and want to tell its stories. You can support local journalism and help us expand our coverage by becoming a supporter. Through Ko-Fi, you can give once or set up a monthly gift.

2 responses to “Window dresser tells stories through mannequins”

  1. Jean says:

    Good job, miss Katie! I will have to come by the store one day.

  2. Robyn Wittenberg Dudley says:

    Very exciting to have the Ruben’s 1898 windows coming to life. So colorful and clever!. Great job Katie and team!!