Meet Susan Triggiani, owner of Agency by the Mall in Springfield, whose eclectic business lawn displays have become the stuff of Delco legend.
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“Is it magical or is it creepy?” Susan Triggiani asked, as we looked out at her lawn display of a family of six life-size humanoid figures with large unicorn heads.
Where to begin? The flesh-colored limbs of the child girl-icorn? The fall leaves that were substituted for hands on the dad-icorn? The entire family’s color-coordinated outfits — with scarves?
“It’s magical and creepy,” I said. “Sometimes, the best magic is a little creepy.”
For 40 years, Triggiani has owned Agency by the Mall, an insurance agency and notary service across from the Springfield Mall in Delaware County. And for 10 of those years, she’s erected fantastical and sometimes perplexing year-round displays on the front lawn of her business on Baltimore Pike, switching them up every two or three months.
Triggiani’s lawn game is so legendary in Delco that admiring strangers anonymously leave items to add to her displays and passersby stop to take pictures of them.
“I didn’t realize that it would be the boon that it is,” she said. “It put me on the map.”
Triggiani — a married mother of four sons, a lifelong Delco resident, and a 1972 Cardinal O’Hara grad — never intended to become the dame of Delco lawn displays. It all started in 2010, when she joined a networking group and found that after 30 years in business, nobody knew her company.
“I thought, ‘How can I be here for all this time and nobody knows me? I have to do something about it,’” she said.
So Triggiani, who is also a community theater actor and set designer, decided to create a small lawn display. She put out a café table, two chairs, and an old black-and-white TV with rabbit ears. She cut out letters spelling “Tags for two” (a play on tea for two) and glued them to the TV, which she put on the table.
“People really liked it,” Triggiani said. “I started there, very small, and we got bigger and bigger.”
Triggiani began to incorporate dolls she inherited from her mother into her displays, including several vintage Patti Playpal dolls, which are about 3 feet tall, with cherub cheeks and soulless eyes (”They are the creepy ones,” she said. “Somebody told me the boy doll looks like Chucky. Another guy told me he looks like Mike Pence”).
She often incorporates those dolls into her installations, dressing them in themed attire and placing them among various pieces of furniture and bric-a-brac. Often, her displays have themes, like Coming to America (where she dressed the dolls as 1920s immigrants and put them in front of a ship’s steering wheel) or Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (where she incorporated various toy vehicles).
Shortly after Triggiani began using the dolls in her displays, she got a call from a Springfield Township zoning officer who told her that her installations were junk and she had to remove them. When she contested, the zoning officer sent her an accumulation of rubbish citations for $650.
While she waited six months or so to take her case before a judge, Triggiani continued to put up new displays.
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And when her day in Springfield district court finally arrived, it was like a scene out of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.”
“The zoning officer brought black-and-white photos of the worst installations. Listen, sometimes they do fail,” Triggiani said. “But then I brought some photos of my most beautiful installations — in color.”
The judge ruled in Triggiani’s favor.
“He said ‘I get it, you’re a little bit of the artsy-type of business woman, aren’t you? I’ll tell you what, you can continue with your decorations, but no appliances,’” Triggiani recalled. “But I always thought if I could get my hands on an old ringer washer, I’d have to take a chance.”
Last year, Triggiani had to get the law involved in her lawn display again. She’d collected 14 electric kids cars people across Springfield donated for her display, set up a pile-up accident scene on her lawn, and had a full-size male mannequin dressed as cop, whom she named Ofc. Dibble, overseeing the scene.
“And somebody stole Officer Dibble!” she said, noting he was a particularly handsome mannequin.
Triggiani filed a police report about her missing officer, but he has never been found.
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Over the last decade, Triggiani estimates that she’s created several dozen displays. There was the one where Gizmo from the Gremlins movie went to visit a fortune teller; there was the living nativity scene with her nieces and nephews; and, perhaps most popular, she said, was a display she did this summer of colorful, flowing figures with rainbow parasols standing in a circle.
“I wanted to communicate that we are the world, we are united,” she said. “The pandemic was keeping us all isolated, but we do hunger for connection.”
And what was the inspiration behind the family of unicorns?
Well, magic, of course.
“We need a little bit of magic right now, we need peace and harmony and the unicorn is a symbol of that,” she said.
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