11/30/2012 - He is a Santa without a mall. A Crestwood Kris Kringle with no place to park his reindeer. A jolly old, fat man whose elf house might as well be in foreclosure -- shuttered and quiet.
Santa works on the sound system at Sherwood Baptist Church in Webster Groves.
photo by Diana Linsley
(click for larger version)
"It's kind of like being a homeless Santa," said Ted Ricks of Crestwood. "I worked at the Crestwood Mall from Thanksgiving to Christmas for 13 years, but this Christmas season there is no place for me at the mall. It looks like last year was my last at Crestwood Mall. It's kind of sad.
"I am still getting freelance Santa assignments," added Ricks, who loves playing Mr. Claus. "I am doing some senior homes, schools, a couple of church pancake breakfasts and neighborhood Christmas parties. My work is less predictable than when I put in those days at the mall."
Santa has many fond memories of his holiday work in the mall just down from the once-bustling Dillard's Store. Over the years, he held many bundles of Christmas joy, although some of them leaked and some of them pulled on his beard to check out whether he was the genuine article.
One thing he has learned is that little girls have a propensity to tattle on their brothers. But, of course, that saves Santa some time in trying to figure out who has been naughty or nice when it comes time to dole out all the presents.
Another thing Santa has learned over the years is to not promise too much and to be circumspect about wishes involving toy machine guns or air rifles. Sometimes mom and dad lean more toward Sarah Brady's Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and less toward Wayne LaPierre's NRA (National Rifle Association).
"Boys ask for toy guns quite often, and I have to be careful because some parents don't want that," observed the veteran Santa. "I explain that such a wish is OK with me, if it's OK with their parents."
Parents are already missing the wise, cheerful and experienced Santa Claus of Crestwood Mall. Several phone calls to the Times have asked if the newspaper has his North Pole phone number and if it could be given out to contract for some freelance work from Mr. Claus.
Santa said no one will get a frosty reception if they want to call him and talk at 314-984-0778. Of course, chimneys must be wide enough for a visit and those Christmas cookies and milk also are an added incentive for his services.
Special Santa Request
Santa holds a little bundle of Christmas joy in four-month-old Ryland Addock of Affton during the 2010 Christmas season at Crestwood Court.
Times file photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Kristi McLean of Ballwin, whose daughter Sophia has been going to see the Crestwood Mall Santa for several years, contacted the Times for information on Santa's whereabouts.
"He's such a nice guy and you can really tell that he doesn't do it for a pay check, but because he really enjoys brightening someone's day," McLean said. "He always seemed to make a point of comforting kids who were a little afraid of him and making up with them.
"We have mall Santas who are closer to us, but those malls have always been so crowded with long lines and the Santas are scary," said Ballwin's McLean. "There are no reindeer, and no little elf houses for Santa. Crestwood was the best."
Of course, Crestwood Mall was once famous for helicoptering Santa Claus onto the parking lot in a gala entry before starting his season's duties. New developers for the now mostly abandoned mall might have received a better reception for their new plans if a Santa heli-pad had been included in plans when they first addressed the board of aldermen this fall at Crestwood City Hall.
"I don't think Santa Claus will ever again helicopter into Crestwood," said Santa. "That was an expensive operation. If he does land at the new development in the future, if it happens, I think there will be plenty of parking space for him.
"One thing I will not miss about the old mall is the hours. I was there from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. some years," said Santa. "Even last year, things could get busy with the shorter hours. We did 150 photos with Santa on some days last year."
Santa was interviewed for this story on "Cyber Monday," Nov. 26, a name invented by Shop.org first used within the e-commerce community during the 2005 holiday season. The idea is to encourage consumers to do their holiday shopping via the Internet.
"I don't understand that idea," said Santa. "We have all these electronic gadgets to save us time, but there's no time to walk a mall or downtown to do our shopping and see Santa Claus. And where is a real Santa on your computer and on the Internet?"
In fact, Ted Ricks, aka Santa Claus, worked in computers for IBM before he retired in the late 1990s. Ricks said he got into the Santa mode after he and his late wife went to Alaska with another couple and the two husbands grew beards.
"I came back from Alaska with my beard and read an ad for Santas to work for Cherry Hill Photo Services," said Ricks. "There were a lot of Santas who were interviewed, but I was the only one willing to take a full-time, seasonal contract. So I went to Crestwood Mall for them."
Now the contract is gone. The crowded shopping center and the ho-ho-ho-ing near Dillard's is history. Ricks is a Santa without a mall.
"I may not have a place to sit and put the kids on my lap to hear their Christmas wishes, but I am still willing to work," said Santa. "It can be arranged. I like the chance to let parents forget about their troubles for a minute and to put smiles on their children's faces. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!"