Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Spotlight: Santa edition

Hey, Santa, how is business?

Very good, Santa Chuck Spencer of Matthews said earlier this week.

“I have had to turn away...more business than I’ve been able to take.”

A year-round professional for about five years, Santa Chuck, 58, does office and neighborhood association parties, and home visits, providing ready-made photo ops. Memorable gigs this year included being Santa at the Belk Carolinas' Carrousel Parade. Then there was the home visit with 11 moms and their 13 babies. “I sat with 8-month-old to 13-month-old babies. It was a hoot. They were all able to sit up on their own.”

Santa Chuck also does volunteer work, visiting sick children year round.

This busy work weekend brings more home visits. And today through Monday, he’ll be in the Santa chair at Birkdale Village. “There will be a line this weekend,” Santa Chuck says. “I talk to the children…My job is to listen to the children, and try to calm the ones…that are a little afraid.”

(For more on how Santa Chuck got his start – along with a neat photo of Santa getting in his bike workout at Squirrel Lake Park in Matthews – check out this story by freelance writer Nancy Thomason in the Observer’s South Charlotte News section.)

I can’t remember the season, but I first met Santa Chuck more than a year ago in the parking deck of a local medical complex. If his long, naturally-white beard wasn’t enough of a giveaway – or his license plate, which includes “Santa” in it – his engaging demeanor confirmed his identity.

He’s clearly comfortable with people coming up to him, since it happens all the time. He's also prepared. He handed me Christmas stickers – and his business card. On impulse, I gave him a hug.

Hugs from strangers don’t bother him. But handing out business cards felt awkward at first, and he’s only been doing that for the last two years or so. Santa Chuck says his late mother-in-law encouraged him to adopt more entrepreneurial habits since his face generates immediate networking opportunities.

Like that Fourth of July day at Birkdale Village about six years ago. Dressed in shorts and a shirt, Santa Chuck recalls being at the fountain with his wife, Lori, a musician, to hear a children’s musical performance.

A lady walked up to him. Excuse me, do you play Santa?

“Before I could say anything, my wife said ‘yes,’" he recalls, joking that it was the first time in their lengthy marriage that she answered for him. The lady handed him her business card, and asked him to give her a call.

Then another lady walked up, her five-year-old son not far behind. After the mother asked Santa Chuck’s permission, the boy say on his lap, and talked nonstop for a half-hour, he said. Are you Santa? Is this Mrs. Claus? We’re going on a boat. Do you want to go on a boat? What do reindeer like to eat?

“He was so well spoken, and so excited,” Santa Chuck said. “Then I was sold.”

He started collecting Santa gear, and attended Santa School in Greensboro. Classes included a session on beard care.

His beard, by the way – which Santa Chuck says started growing in white and long following an illness about ten years ago – is now midway down his chest. He’s meticulous about keeping it washed and conditioned so it’s soft to the touch. Kids love touching it -- as do adult women, he says. He expects that will happen a lot this weekend.

“I have a lot of fun,” Santa Chuck says. “But I have to be honest with you, I’m looking forward to this time next week.”