Every December, scores of portly fellows step into some pretty big boots.
They are Minnesota’s Santas, working the retail centers, company parties and holiday events. Their local organization, North Star Santas, boasts more than 100 members, most with natural white beards.
Some of them become Santa’s helper for the sheer fun of it, while others bag a tidy profit with annual mall and modeling gigs.
You can see from the twinkle in each eye that all of the Santas bring a genuine affection for children and Christmas to
A few have become Santaprenuers, finding a way to turn their alter ego into a business.
While those who don the Santa suit may learn a child’s fondest wish, the St. Nick stand-ins sometimes harbor their own wishes.
“One day after I had been with kids, I said, ‘I wish my beard smelled like candy canes,’” said Santa Randy, (Randy Gabrelcik) who owns a Mound concrete construction business when he’s not busy in his toyshop.
That Christmas tree light-bulb moment got Gabrelcik, 61, and his wife, Debra, moving, and in 2006, the couple cooked up a business opportunity — a company they call Santa Scents.
Their e-commerce business sells cologne ($19), scented beard elixir ($18) beard conditioning balm ($18) and lip balm ($3.50) in a variety of Claus-approved aromas: peppermint, cinnamon, pine, cocoa, cookies, and a scent called “chimney,” which claims to carry the fragrance of smoky firewood.
Today’s emphasis on real beards has helped to build an international Claus customer base.
“We’ve sold to Santas all over the country and shipped our products to Santas in Australia and Denmark,” said Debra, who fills the orders.
Santa Randy thinks he understands the appeal of their products to his bearded brethren. “Ho-ho-ho!”
Cheryl Saxrud, 63, came to the role of Mrs. Claus through crafting. She held annual Christmas boutiques in her Minneapolis home back when she was a full-time mom. A top seller was her handmade Santa figures.
That led to a connection with Santa Carlucci, a professional Santa, who she joined for appearances as his spouse. In their Claus personas, the two began brainstorming about props and accessories to make a child’s encounter with Santa more magical, memorable and believable.
“We came up with ideas to help the individual guys pep up their game,” says Saxrud.
Today, the Mrs. Claus Creations website offers such products as belt pouches where Santa can store candy canes and his cell phone, leather-bound naughty and nice journals, unique walking sticks and bonnets for Mrs. Claus.
But the best seller is a “reindeer whistle.” Fashioned from an antler, it’s what Santa uses to call his fleet. “The number one question kids ask is, ‘How does Santa make reindeer fly?’” Saxrud says. “The whistle has a secret compartment with glitter in it. Santa can show them how he uses his magic flying dust on Christmas Eve. Boy, does that make their eyes go wide!”
December is a busy month for Santa, but he works all year long for Red Bow Services, a gift delivery service manned by Santa Carlucci (Carl Immediato).
“Santa can help people with a spectacular gift in a way they will never forget,” says Santa Carlucci, 70, a retired IT manager. “People hire me for once-in-a-lifetime events, a 50th anniversary gift or a graduation. Santa makes it all the more special.”
For a fee of $150, the fully outfitted Santa pays surprise off-season visits. He’s delivered a car, the news of a big vacation and, in one memorable appearance, he was the wingman to a groom-to-be who was popping the question over dinner in a crowded restaurant.
“I started by giving her the My Little Pony that she asked Santa for when she was a little girl but never got,” he says. “Then I looked in my bag and found the engagement ring box and said, this is from someone who loves you very much. When she said yes, the whole room erupted.”
Santa Carlucci, who has dropped the puck at a Wild game, greeted visitors to the Renaissance Fair and taken the stage as the closing act at Christmas concerts, first donned the suit in 1993 as a volunteer bell-ringer for the Salvation Army.
That’s where he got the idea for his Claus courier service.
“I was ringing the bell outside Byerly’s and a guy came up and asked me if I would deliver a gift to his wife,” he says. “It’s become a fun way to extend the character.”