Santa Claus is part of doing business for the malls CARROLL COUNTY FARM/BUSINESS

December 24, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good.

And in some cases, he's being paid good money to do it.

"Santa really is a business," said Frank Meyer, acting manager of Cranberry Mall in Westminster. "There are at least two companies that all they do is provide Santas."

For Cranberry Mall, the Christmas season began when Santa arrived in a sleigh pulled by live reindeer on Nov. 18.

The parade included clowns, mimes, the North Carroll High School marching band, a brass ensemble, members of the Carroll County Sheriff's Department, Westminster City Police, the Westminster Volunteer Fire Department, a dog troupe called Akitas on Parade, Garfield in an antique car and a walking Christmas tree.

"We wanted festive entertainment for children as well as adults, and to get the community involved," said Kathi McAvoy, the mall's marketing manager.

"There were about 7,000 to 10,000 people here, so we consider it very successful."

The entire production cost about $7,000, Ms. McAvoy said.

"The reindeer from Oregon were the most expensive part of the parade," she said.

But the mall did not have to pay Santa Claus' salary as he heard the requests of local boys and girls. In a contract with Santa Claus Plus, a Missouri-based company that provides Christmas and Easter characters, the mall will receive a commission from the jolly old elf's photograph sales.

Photo packages range from $6.50 to $18.95, and the mall earns 30 percent to 50 percent of the sales, depending on how many are sold.

"That's [the photos] where the contractor makes his money," said Mr. Meyer.

But despite the money they earn, the mall managers said they provide a Santa Claus as a public service and to continue a tradition.

L "What would a mall be without Santa Claus?" Ms. McAvoy said.

Mr. Meyer agreed. "Even if it cost us money, we would probably continue to do it," he said.

Community involvement was also the reason that Carrolltowne Mall in Eldersburg had a Santa this year, said Mindy Freedman, marketing director for Rappaport Management Co. The Vienna, Va.-based company manages Carrolltowne Mall.

"The customers like it," Ms. Freedman said. "Everyone loves Santa, the kids and the parents. It's an annual event, and we're real happy about it."

However, Carrolltowne managers paid for Santa to visit their mall. Santa and the other characters in the arrival parade were provided by Entourage, an acting troupe affiliated with Geyer's Theatre Shop in Westminster.

Photos with Santa are $5 each, and part of the proceeds goes to the Salvation Army, said Chuck Lambert, the shop's promotions coordinator.

Although the mall budgeted $2,000 for Christmas promotions, neither Ms. Freedman nor Mr. Lambert would reveal how much Entourage was paid for the parade or Santa's weekend visits.

Mr. Lambert also declined to provide a price range for the parades the company has presented at the Annapolis Mall, Harford Mall, Security Mall and Francis Scott Key Mall.

"It's easier if people call and we can give them a quote," he said. "We base the price on the distance, the hours we have to perform and what all is entailed."

The shop also rents holiday costumes for Santa, Mrs. Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Christmas mice and candy canes for $20 to $50.

"We've been in business for seven years, and ever since we opened, Christmas has been a big part of our season," Mr. Lambert said.

For some other county businesses, however, Santa's services were donated this year.

Normally the Westminster Business Association budgets around $1,000 a year for its Christmas celebration, said David Max, association vice president and manager of the Winchester Exchange.

The celebration includes Santa's arrival on the EnterTRAINment

line, visiting hours on two Saturdays, and various Christmas characters handing out treats along Main Street on arrival day.

"We do it to bring people downtown and to promote the businesses," Mr. Max said. "It's our biggest promotion of the year."

However, this year Santa almost didn't come to town. The association didn't have enough money to hire someone to play Santa, and the Westminster City Council wouldn't give the group the $240 they needed for his salary.

Eventually, members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at Western Maryland College volunteered to play Santa during visiting hours and the EnterTRAINment line donated their Santa's services.

"I thought it was a real success," said Mr. Max of the tree lighting Dec. 5. "There were about 100 kids there, even though it was real cold. Everyone did a real good job and it was really nice for Gus [Novotny of the EnterTRAINment line] to do what he did."

In addition to bringing the jolly old elf to downtown Westminster, the EnterTRAINment line also offers Santa train rides. Company employees feel the rides are a way to get everyone involved in the spirit of Christmas, said office manager Linda Harman.

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