Santa season: St. Nicholas stirs up magic and business at the mall

He checks his beard in the mirror every morning before leaving the house to take a seat on his magical throne. After all, even a single out-of-place hair could plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the hundreds of children who will visit him in a single day.

He may not be the one and only, but the Santa you see sitting before you in the local mall is far from phony.

In fact, according to most mall managers, without Santa, the holidays would not be complete. And many parents agree that being able to bring their children to see the jolly red elf year after year is a favorite holiday tradition.

While the beards and suits and boots may be the same, not all Santas are created equal.

According to Jimmy Valentino, owner of Capital Photo, a special event photography business, the Santa you see at the mall sometimes comes from the most unlikely of places.

Valentino's company has been responsible for bringing Santa to Crossgates Mall for the past 22 years, and Colonie Center for the past five.

His employees come from throughout the community, and most of them seek out Valentino for the seasonal job.

They come just from the general public. A lot of them have found me over the years, said Valentino. "I have one -- he's a professor emeritus at RPI."

Valentino said that many of his Santas are either retired or looking for something to do on the side during the holidays. Some, like the former professor John Corelli of New Scotland, look at their work as a way to reach out to the community in a way that will affect many people. (See sidebar to read about a day in his life as Santa.)

According to Becky Valenti, marketing manager for Rotterdam Square Mall in Rotterdam, having Santa at the mall encourages young children to come to the shopping center, which adds to the magic of the holiday season.

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