By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
MARTINEZ, Calif. – Santa Claus is coming to Martinez. The city hasn’t just rolled out a welcome mat; it has set up a bright red house where children will be able to visit the jolly holiday elf.
The house has been set up at Main Street Plaza, between Starbucks and the former Bank of America building on Main Street. During the past few days, workers have been decorating both the inside and outside of the building.
Santa’s visits predate Main Street Martinez’s participation. “Main Street Martinez has been sponsoring the Santa House for nine years,” said Leanne Peterson, executive director.
City employees store and care for the Santa House in between visits, then set it up shortly before Santa’s arrival, she said. “Main Street Martinez and volunteers get it ready for the season,” she said.
Nicole diGiorgio is the “chief elf” who will be shooting photographs of those who want mementos of their visit. Main Street Martinez and the City of Martinez organize and sponsor the visit.
Main Street Martinez chose diGiorgio, who owns Sweetness and Light Photography, to take the pictures. “You can purchase beautiful, professional photographs and personal attention you won’t get at the malls,” Peterson said.
“Santa has been excited for the last month about this visit,” diGiorgio said. “We’ve been working very hard to get ready for him.”
DiGiorgio been handling the photography duties for the past five years, and has been working to streamline the visits so youngsters don’t have to wait in line so long to see Santa. “Each year we try to improve the system,” she said.
Signs mark how Santa’s guests will queue in line, and this year diGiorgio said a presale link is available to those who know they want photographs taken of themselves or their children with Santa. Cost of those pictures are $15, with subsequent pictures costing $10.
In addition, those who buy photos will be able to see print versions quickly, diGiorgio said.
When she’s not assisting Santa, diGiorgio usually is photographing weddings, taking portraits and handling assignments for companies and other clients.
“I try to get candid shots of the kids interacting with Santa,” she said, calling her approach “capturing the experience.”
Well-behaved pets are welcome, too, diGiorgio said. Peterson said most of the pets who accompany their owners are dogs, although visitors to the Martinez Santa Facebook page can see the jolly elf with a tiny hairless guinea pig named Ruby.
Santa Claus will arrive at noon Friday, Dec. 4, and will make appearances through Dec. 23, when he has to leave to pack toys for his around-the-world trip to drop off presents to good children.
His hours at the house the first day will be noon to 4 p.m., and 6-9 p.m. Afterwards, he’ll be at the house from 9 a.m. to noon and 2-5 p.m. Dec. 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23.
During his stay here, Santa Claus is receiving letters at Main Street Martinez, P.O. Box 776, Martinez, CA 94553, and will be replying to those letters. “We get the letters in our P.O. box, and hand them off to Santa,” Peterson said. And only Santa sees the messages the children share. “We don’t read them ahead of time,” she said.
In addition, another elf is handling his emails. Children may email Santa Claus at firstname.lastname@example.org and will receive a reply.