Where the Cincinnati tradition lives

A view of Shillito’s elves displays at the Leader Furniture building in Over-The-Rhine, on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. Shilito's elves display are created by Mark Trierweiler and will be on display starting Friday in the windows of the Leader Furniture building.

The Shillito’s elves are missing.

Well, some of the Shillito’s elves are missing. And Mark Trierweiler knows exactly where they are.

Better watch out, Fort Wayne. Sounds like you’re on the naughty list.

We’ll get to the mystery of the missing elves in a bit, but first, some history. 

Trierweiler is the owner of about half the elves that so many Cincinnatians remember from holiday trips to the original Shillito’s department store downtown. How he got them was a combination of expertise, happenstance and nostalgia.

It all started with the old Santa’s toy factory display on Fountain Square in the mid-90s. Trierweiler is a theatrical scene designer, and he designed and fabricated the holiday installations every year.

The elves had been part of those displays, but in 1996, they found themselves without a home. Representatives from Downtown Cincinnati Inc. asked Treirweiler if he’d like them.

Silly question. Of course, he would. 

A Cincinnati holiday tradition

Trierweiler grew up on the west side, with his mom taking him to see the elves every year. “Oh, heck yeah,” he recalled. “She would bring us down on the bus. I remember being very young, maybe 7, and going to Shillito’s, seeing the outside windows and going upstairs and seeing the elves and Santa, of course.”

Just a couple of decades later, he was the proud owner of about half of those very elves.

He used them in his annual Fountain Square holiday display, and then at the Westin Hotel across the street until the early 2000s.

“Then they went into storage,” he said.

More:Downtown department stores were festive for holiday shopping

The mystery of the missing elves

And here’s where Fort Wayne comes into the story.

One of the associate producers of the holiday display moved to Fort Wayne, and since the elves weren’t being used, she asked to display some of them there.  

“I lobbied hard against it,” Trierweiler remembers. “I said, if they borrow the elves we will never see them again. And that’s exactly what happened.”

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