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

"We love to see the small children come in," she said. "I think it really adds a lot during Christmas time."

The impact Santa's presence has at the mall is great, according to many who are able to witness the magic first-hand.

"It really is all about the experience," said Sara Boniface, marketing director for Crossgates Mall. "Typically, shopping centers and mall developers go with a corporate company, and we've chosen to go with Capital Photo for this long because of the experience they bring."

Boniface said having a local company handle such a special holiday event is rare, and Crossgates is glad Capital Photo is able to do it.

The whole holiday experience is the main reason Valentino got in the Santa business.

Valentino, who once worked as a photographer for state Sen. Tarky Lombardi, said he gained an interest in Santa photography after hearing about it from fellow photographers.

"The rest is sort of history," he said.

Valentino said he knew when he started his business, which he runs out of his home in Latham, that he wanted to create a Disney-like experience for customers who come for a photo with Santa.

"The truth is that there are Santas everywhere this time of year, but we're really not just selling photos," he said.

Boniface credited Valentino's employees as always having "real beards," but Valentino said appearance is not the most important thing.

"That is much less important than the quality of the individual in terms of bringing this character to life," he said.

For the managers at Colonie Center, the area where Santa sits is also important in creating a festive experience for visitors.

According to Joe Millett, general manager of Colonie Center, "This year, the Santa display is down by L.L. Bean. All of our dEcor is brand new; it's really lovely."

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