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Globe Editorial

At Jordan’s, not Jordan Marsh

November 28, 2009

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IN THIS WORLD of manic cartoons, 3-D movies, and strobe-light toys, it seems unlikely that small kids would be enthralled by a 1950s-era display of slow-moving, motorized mannequins. But last Sunday, thousands of them oohed and aahed at the Enchanted Village, the classic Jordan Marsh holiday display that’s now installed at Jordan’s Furniture in Avon. What’s more impressive is that the kids still had the capacity for joy after waiting in line for an hour and a half - and that their parents, if a little wan, were generally cheerful, too.

It speaks to the power of nostalgia and the open-mindedness of kids. And it’s a testament to the vision of Eliot Tatelman, the president and CEO of Jordan’s, who read last summer that the display was going up for auction and decided, on a whim, to buy it. Tatelman bid $140,000 to buy the village from the City of Boston, which had shuttered it for lack of funds. He spent significantly more - he won’t say how much - to install it in his warehouse, refurbish the storefronts, put new motors on the faux children and teddy bears, and add what he calls some “Jordanizing’’ touches, most notably a shower of snow (it’s really soap) that blows periodically from the ceiling. He even lured a Jordan Marsh baker out of retirement to recreate the department store’s classic blueberry muffins, now available for purchase. Admission is free, though for some money you can also buy a photo, see a light show, or take a “4-D’’ movie ride.

Tatelman is the first to admit that this wasn’t a completely altruistic move; on some weekend days, the Enchanted Village has drawn 10,000 people to the store, and they have to wind their way through a maze of furniture to get out again. Still, nostalgia also played into the purchase; Tatelman didn’t want a private collector to sell off the village in parts. He and his brother Barry, purveyors of some of Boston’s cheesiest TV ads, have always had a sense of flamboyant theatricality, but they’ve also understood how quirks and traditions, commercial and otherwise, give a region its sense of self. A decade after the company was sold to Berkshire Hathaway, Jordan’s remains assiduously Jordan’s. Now, a new generation of Bostonians has reason to think of it fondly.

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