More than just window dressing: Designer filled downtown Edmonds with whimsy for 13 years

Simmons works on a window display at Sound Styles. (2017 photo by Bob Sears)

For more than a decade, a special energy spilled into the streets at 5th and Main. It filled the fountain plaza with magic, whimsy, color, texture, surprise and an intangible something that kept us coming back for more. The source: the ever-changing tableau of the Sound Styles display windows, the product of the fertile mind and imagination of window dresser Shelly Hampton Simmons.

But that was then. With the recent closure of Sound Styles, the windows today are bare, the magic they brought is memory and the corner just seems a bit colder and less vibrant.

It began 13 years ago, when artist, dancer, actor, choreographer, visual merchandiser, costume and set designer – the list goes on and on – Shelly Hampton Simmons walked into Sound Styles and asked owner Jenny Murphy if she needed someone to do window displays.

“She asked me a couple of questions, and then told me to go in the back room and do a display,” explained Simmons. “I did, she liked it and that was the beginning of what would be 13 years of creating displays at the corner of 5th and Main.”

But ask anyone who regularly walked past that corner and they’ll tell you that these were much more than store window displays.

Simmons never failed to catch the moment — the mood of the season, current trends in literature, pop culture, music, history, the events that shaped our lives — and interpret these through her art in ways that captured the imagination and were accessible to all. No high-brow stuff for her — this was art for the people.

Simmons joins her 2019 Edmonds Historical Museum Scarecrow Contest entry, the It Girl, in the Sound Styles window. (Photo courtesy Shelly Simmons)

She reflected pop culture when the movie of horror author Stephen King’s novel It was making the cinema circuit (including the Edmonds Theater) by creating a window she named The It Girl, featuring her own interpretation of the story’s sinister villain. She regularly created windows as entries in the Edmonds Historical Museum’s annual Scarecrow Contest, including “Miss Plaid Hatter,” and “Desperate Housewife of Deadmonds,” capturing the classic Alice in Wonderland story and the hit TV show respectively. Most recently, her 2022 entry “Miss Measure” — a mummy wrapped in tailors’ tapes — took first place in the Scarecrow Contest retail category.

In all three of these windows and several others, Simmons took her art to the next level, donning costume and makeup to become a live part of the window display and shocking passersby when they saw what appeared to be a mannequin move its hands, smile and actively engage with them.

Santa (aka Earl Bricker) was part of Simmons’ 2021 holiday window display at Sound Styles, one of several instances where she incorporated live people into her display. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

Holidays were always a reason for special creations, and Simmons’ Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and especially December holiday displays became the stuff of local legend. For the past few years these have included a live Santa – Edmonds’ own Earl Bricker in full Santa regalia seated in his sumptuous patterned chair – waving to children young and old passing by on the sidewalk.

“People ask where I get the ideas for my displays,” Simmons explained.“Often it’s just a random thought, something I see or read, maybe a mask or a t-shirt that provides the spark to get my imagination flowing, and it just goes on its own and builds from there. Even after the window is up, my brain is working all the time on ways to modify it, add something, change something – it’s a constant creative thing. That’s part of what made doing the Sound Styles windows so special – I was always there and I could change it every day. I always try to do things that no one else has done, and I try not to do anything twice.”

It was at Sound Styles that Simmons first came up with the idea of becoming a live part of her displays.

Simmons first experimented with going live in her displays with Miss Plaid Hatter, her entry in the 2018 scarecrow contest. (Photo courtesy Shelly Simmons)

“I just fell in love with the Miss Plaid Hatter character when I put it up for the Scarecrow contest. I even dreamed about her,” she admitted. “I wanted to dress like her, look like her, and yes, be her. So I got a face painter to do my makeup and designed an outfit right down to a plaid teapot and cup. I went into the window live on Halloween night, and was amazed at how the crowds gathered as I mimed pouring and drinking tea. It was my first time doing a live window – amazing, unforgettable. I’m really very shy and standoffish, but get me on stage and it’s like I become a new outgoing, engaging personality. When I get in the window, I act – I’m on stage, I’m theatrical, I’m a different girl.”

Like most artists, Simmons didn’t start out knowing her creative direction, and becoming an artist was the furthest thing from her mind while growing up in a little town in the tumbleweed country of eastern New Mexico.

Her story is as varied and nuanced as her art and is best told in her own words.

Shelly Simmons in a self-portrait.

“As a youngster I never thought of myself as an artist, but I guess I always was — I just didn’t realize it at the time,” she began with a laugh.  “After high school I left New Mexico to attend school in Texas for dance and choreography. After that I came to the Pacific Northwest to study visual merchandising at the Art Institute of Seattle.

“I got my degree and was hired right away at the Nordstrom downtown Seattle flagship store as part of the window team. I eventually became a visual manager at the Tacoma Nordstrom, but moved away to get married,” she continued. “Next stop was Las Vegas, where I worked a series of jobs, first at Neiman Marcus as a window dresser and cosmetic department visual manager, and then as a window dresser for Burberry and Hermes.

“Finally, we moved to Edmonds, drawn by the quality of life and the good schools for our kids, and shortly after I began working downtown as a window dresser for Sound Styles,” she concluded. “This is where the community stepped in to help my windows grow into stories. Every day I could not wait to do the windows, add something new in them, tweak the display slightly, always connecting with the passerby.”

Simmons’ most recent scarecrow contest entry was Miss Measure, a mummy wrapped in tailor’s measuring tape. It won top honors in 2022.

But with the closing of Sound Styles, the 48-year-old Simmons now finds herself energetically looking at new directions.

“I really love Edmonds,” she said. “I live here, raised my kids here and I feel like part of the fabric of the community. I’ve never had this kind of community connection before, where people would come into Sound Styles and ask for me so they could comment on my windows. Many of these comments were great ideas that I incorporated into my designs — and the creative process became a two-way dynamic between me and the community. That just doesn’t happen in bigger retail stores. It’s magic, it’s special and I love it.”

While Simmons makes no secret that she’d love her own retail space in downtown Edmonds, she’s realistic about the prospects.

“There’s a long wait for a vacancy to come up, and space is expensive,” she explained. “In the meantime I’m available for consultation on everything from party planning to holiday decorating, to coordinating social media. And if you need a fearless brainstormer to pioneer new ideas for you or your business, I have a proven track record and would love to work for you.” Those interested can email her at

“My goal is to stay in Edmonds,” she concluded. “I want to keep doing work here, being creative and engaging with the community. But while I love the community, I need to remain open to whatever opportunities the universe may drop in my lap.”

Learn more about Shelly Hampton Simmons on her Facebook Page, her Instagram feed, or by following this QR code.

— By Larry Vogel

  1. Shelly is very creative and her windows were completely fun and artistic. I loved to look in each week or two and see the fabulous designs.

  2. The city of Edmonds would be wise in keeping her artistic endeavors going in the empty windows/store fronts around town until they are full again.

  3. I agree, Cyndi! The space in disrepair at the old Baskin Robbins on 5th Ave is a sad representation of our community. It has been vacant since I moved here six years ago and even prior to that time. It would behoove the city to beautify the space so as people drive into town they are not confronted by the blight there. I’ve always loved and marveled at Shelly’s windows with her creative, whimsical, innovative designs. What a gift she has and we’ve been blessed to enjoy it all these years!

  4. Thanks for all the wonderful scarecrow entries, Shelly. So creative, fun and a little scary when the exhibit actually came to life! Great memories for so many kids and young at heart!

  5. I lived 20 years in Palo Alto, CA—another town with moneyed residents. Palo Alto was much more aesthetically attractive than Edmonds. I understand that long-time residents who contribute large shares to our city’s revenue, are extremely concerned that Edmonds not “look like Seattle.” I am confident some

  6. Someone like Shelly Simmons could work with the city of Edmonds to amplify Edmond’s unique charm. These are dark times. Health problems. Civil discourse. War. Economic challenges. Fun, humor, whimsy, charm, celebrating people, expressions of joy, happiness and love—these remain in the midst of darkness. Let’s not hide them under a bushel basket to ensure we stay tasteful. Let’s share what happiness we can. Let’s put together a funded group lead by Shelly. No, I do not know her. No money? Put together a Go Fund Me Campaign. Chamber of Commerce, this is not taking business away from you. You have a specific mission. This group could operate—within laws and regs—outside those limits. Every smile we share brightens our dark world. I know I am a fool to whom no one listens. I choose to be a fool who speaks words of love to my fellow humans.

  7. Perhaps Graphite could find a place for Shelly!

    An artist doing “window displays” at The Art Place!

  8. This is a very cool story. My dad left Chicago for Seattle in the early 1950s leaving my mom and 4 kids on hold there until he could make enough to get a house and send for them. He drove truck for a bakery early in the morning, then he worked nights building window displays in downtown Seattle department stores. This also explains why my mom always had the most fashionable clothes.

  9. Thank you for singing the praises of this formerly unsung art hero in our City. Shelley (and Jenny for hiring her) added something really special to our lives with these fresh public art displays at Sound Styles. No one, literally no one, is more creative than Shelley Simmons. We definitely need to keep her here.

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