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

Millett said that in addition to the Santa setup, which includes a 35-foot tree, Colonie Center also has an Angel Tree, where shoppers can pick a name and buy a gift for a child in need.

There is a business side to the whole endeavor, too, and the business, according to Boniface, is what actually brings Santa to the mall.

Boniface said Capital Photo, or any other business that takes photos of children with Santa, seeks out the mall; the mall does not seek out Santa.

Capital Photos offers different rates for different sized photos of children with Santa. But purchasing a photograph is not necessary for visiting with Santa. In fact, it is not even the main priority for Valentino's business.

"If we worry less about if people are buying and we put the emphasis on the experience, we become less commercial more experience oriented," he said. "The more that we play down the commercial aspect of it, the more successful it is. And for us, we really try to preserve that sort of magical time in a child's life. For us, we really try to remember that first. The families really appreciate that."

Family values and traditions are what keep Santa coming to the mall every year. But Valentino said he struggles to keep the tradition alive in a bleak economy.

"So many traditions are sort of falling by the wayside. We really do make an effort to give somebody some value for what they're getting, and that's been the foundation for what we do," he said. "I need for my own personal self to know that we make a wholesome effort to make people feel the best they can be."

A visit to Santa can be a source of relief for parents as well, particularly those who do not have the slightest idea of what to buy their child for the holidays.

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