Friday is the start of the Christmas season as the lights go up, the shopping begins and, in downtown, a sure sign for the last 50 years has gone up to let the community know the holiday season in Spokane has begun.
"It's not Black Friday for me, it's putting up the Madonna," Joel Baldwin said.
It's a holiday tradition for anyone who shops downtown this time of year.
"I think it means a lot to a lot of people," he said.
It means a little bit more to Baldwin; he's been lifting the panels for the Madonna since he was a teenager. For him, the tradition of Madonna at Main and Wall downtown is a family tradition that began long before he was born.
"My dad and grandpa built it back in 1956," Baldwin said.
Madonna first went up in 1957. Since they she's looked down on shoppers from Thanksgiving through Christmas every year.
Well almost every year.
"I think it was the late 80's, money was tight, the Bon said, 'You know, we don't think we're gonna put it up this year, we'll save our holiday budget.' They got so much bad press and letters and little old ladies saying their Christmas was ruined because it wasn't there. They've done it every year since," Baldwin said.
So 56 years is a pretty good run, and how do you improve on the Virgin Mary?
Well after all these decades, it was time for Madonna to get a 2013 makeover.
So Baldwin Signs brought her back to the shop in north Spokane and, mindful of her history, gave her a subtle but necessary facelift.
"The goal is to make it as original-looking as possible so the average onlooker wouldn't notice other than it's cleaned up, the colors are a little more vibrant, the paint's been redone," Baldwin said.
New pieces made to look exactly like the ones that adorned downtown for almost 60 years. And, this centuries-old symbol, that means so much to so many, is going green.
"It was lit with about 500 incandescent light bulbs, now it's LED, so its' about 95-percent more efficient than it used to be," Baldwin said.
Now its time to put it back this week, the eight panels, 12 feet wide, 48 feet tall, carefully lifted into place, with Baldwin above making sure everything goes according to plan. Because can you imagine if it didn't?
"Yeah the one panel that has the head of Jesus? Don't drop that one," Baldwin said.
Mission accomplished Joel, and ready to shine over downtown Spokane for another 56 years or more.
"To me, it's a really important part of my holiday season and i love putting it up. It's a fun project and we love doing it," Baldwin said.