|Above: Santa Rob Figley and Mrs. Claus Diane. Below: Santa Bob Gang. Many Santas predict a good year.|
NORTH POLE Reports are coming in from points north that this Christmas season is going to be a good one for the seasonal Santa sector. The recession might hammer holiday retail spending, but “People will give up a lot of things first before they give up Christmas,” says Santa Pat Lewis of North Pole outpost Silverton.
Key sources in the industry report bookings are growing this year after a flat Christmas 2008. Santa Tim Connaghan, chair of the 2010 National Convention of Santas in Anaheim, says work is picking up. “In September and October, the floodgates opened. I had 20 Santas working a few weeks ago. It’s still not as big as it was two years ago, though.”
“I’ve heard reports from other Santas losing business,” says real-bearded Santa Rob Figley of Vancouver, Wash., “but that’s not true here. I believe the reason for this is that getting a Santa is not a really expensive thing to do. Wiis are $400, but Santa is $150. People are looking at their budgets and saying, ‘We can afford Santa.”’ Things are going so well, Santa Rob and his missus plan to start a “Cooking with Mrs. Santa Claus” line of business this year.
The 2010 convention is being sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Real-Bearded Santa Clauses. Santa Tim, 62, has been a real-bearded Santa for 12 years and also operates a Santa booking agency in Hollywood, Calif., along with his School for Santas. Considered the national go-to red suit, he estimates there are about 4,000 Santas in the U.S. He says the sector really took off in the past decade with the ability of the far-flung group to connect via Internet.
Santa Bob Gang of McMinnville, described by colleagues as “the dean of the theatrically bearded Santas” (“I’m the right size for Santa; 6 feet tall and 230 pounds with my own natural padding”), says his early bookings are better than last year. “I’m not a mall Santa because the hours are long and the pay is generally low,” says Santa Bob, who charges between $100 and $250 for parties at companies, churches, daycare and nursing centers, and private homes. Most Santas charge in that range, and also do a fair amount of pro bono work.
It’s a short season to make the nut — Thanksgiving to Dec. 24 — with Santas averaging about 30 bookings during that time.
The overall Oregon Santa business was hurt badly last year by the double whammy of the economy and the snowstorms that hit the week before Christmas. “In fact, my car was snowed in for the week before Christmas by two feet of snow and I couldn’t get my car out of the parking area,” says Santa Bob. “This was the first time in 14 years that Santa had to cancel appearances.” Apparently, the highway patrol does not look kindly on use of sleigh and reindeer in such circumstances.
Mrs. Santa Marlene Morris of Salmon Creek, Wash., says a big concern this year is the swine flu. “Kids sit on your lap and you know how kids are, they’re gooey. We never had to think about it before.” But going without gloves just wouldn’t be right so, “We’ll just take our chances.”
But nothing is a bigger mistake than making a promise to the customer that the supplier might not be able to fulfill. “I learned that you never promise anything. You listen to what they want,” says Santa Bob, “and say you’ll do the best you can.”