Santa Claus stole the show Saturday at downtown Schenectady’s annual Holiday Open House.
Of the many activities during the five-hour-long event, and there were many, none proved more popular than a visit to the red-dressed elf.
Santa welcomed more than 100 adults and children to City Hall, which he and Rudolph the reindeer used as a temporary North Pole base during their visit. The line waiting to see Santa ran the length of the main hallway in the building for several hours.
“I have been doing this for a 1,000 years and I feel it today,” said St. Nick, referring to the scores of people who sat on his lap and whispered their gift suggestions to him. He took a break later to rub the circulation back into his legs.
Not that he was complaining. “This is great; this is what it is all about,” he said between welcoming two adults and then three children to sit on his lap.
During their visit with Santa, people had their picture snapped by photographer Vincent Giordano. They got a full-color print for free about 45 seconds later. Giordano said he was on track to take 120 pictures Saturday, more than he has taken each year for the last three he has worked the open house. The Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp., which sponsored the open house, paid for Giordano’s services.
Volunteer Rex Oliver stood sentry at the door to Santa’s chamber, maintaining crowd control. “I keep all the good ones over here,” he said pointing to a long line of children on the right. “And I keep the naughty ones over there,” he said with a gesture to empty space on the left.
Kayla VanAlystne of Burnt Hills said she planned to frame the picture taken of Santa and her 3-year-old son, Joseph, and to use it for Christmas cards. “This is our second year,” she said. “We will be here for a couple of hours.”
Dawn Enright of Schenectady sat on Santa’s lap for the first time in decades Saturday. “You are never too old to sit on Santa’s lap,” she said. She was there with her daughter and grandchild.
“We heard about this event on the radio. We never knew it existed,” she said.
Enright said she asked Santa to make her a millionaire.
Angella Patterson, 3, also asked Santa for money. “I want this much,” she said, raising two fingers.
Santa said the most popular gift requests this season were electronics. “People want notebooks and tablets and electronic toys,” he said. The best request, he said, came from a 3-year-old. “She wanted a snowflake. She was wonderful,” he said.
Letting out a jolly laugh, he added, “It is a good day to be Santa,” as he welcomed the next child to his lap.
DSIC Executive Director Jim Salengo said the annual event brings thousands of people to downtown Schenectady and helps promote local businesses. “This is our signature event for downtown,” he said. The event used to be held Thursday night, but was changed to a Saturday afternoon three years ago. “This is easier for the businesses. They can keep regular hours and you get a lot of families downtown,” he said. “On a Saturday, you can take your time and spend a leisurely pace.”
Lance Dzintars, co-owner of Zaria & Bella’s Gift Shop on Jay Street, said the promotion helped to move traffic into his store, which is less than a year old. “I think anything that brings awareness to a small business is a good thing,” he said. “The DSIC does good for the amount of resources they have.”
The DSIC recently came under fire from some merchants who must pay an assessment used to fund the organization’s operations. They claimed the DSIC was not doing enough to promote downtown businesses, something Salengo disputed.
Mike Casey, the gift shop’s other co-owner, said he had “no complaints” about the DSIC.