Metro-East Living

Santa kicks off Christmas at St. Clair Square this weekend

St. Clair Square maintenance technician Victor White uses a boom lift to hook greenery sprays on the steel frame of a 35-foot-tall Christmas tree in Center Court on Thursday.
St. Clair Square maintenance technician Victor White uses a boom lift to hook greenery sprays on the steel frame of a 35-foot-tall Christmas tree in Center Court on Thursday. jhodges@bnd.com

Building a 35-foot-tall Christmas tree with lights and decorations is no easy feat. Just ask the maintenance crew at St. Clair Square.

First, they use boom and scissor lifts to assemble the steel frame, which has a base of mini storefront windows and a giant star on top. Then they hook on sprays of greenery and white lights and decorate the tree with ornaments.

“Somebody put a lot of thought into designing this,” said maintenance technician Victor White, 59. “They made it as simple as they could. It’s just a matter of putting it together.”

Victor worked with fellow technician Gary Klein all week to set up Santa’s headquarters in Center Court, complete with a stuffed green chair that’s about 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

“It’s a big one,” Victor said. “When you’ve got a lot of little kids sitting on your lap, you need a lot of room.”

Santa Claus arrives on Saturday, kicking off the Christmas season for the Fairview Heights mall. He will hold court every day through Christmas Eve. Children can pose for photos or just visit and give him their wish lists.

The exception is Thanksgiving, as the mall’s Tennessee owner CBL & Associates has decided to close all its locations across the country on that day. Tenants with exterior entrances have the option of doing business.

“(Closing is) risky, and you never know how people are going to take it,” said St. Clair Square general manager Michael Hagen. “But we have good intentions, and we hope the public appreciates that we’re trying to give our employees time with their families. It’s the right thing to do.”

Michael, 45, noted that Black Friday has been inching its way backward, interfering with holiday celebrations. In recent weeks, customers have sent emails and personal cards, thanking the company for its family friendly gesture.

St. Clair Square will be back in full swing Nov. 25. Michael expects millions of customers to stop by over the next month.

“Black Friday is called Black Friday for a reason,” he said. “That’s typically the first time retailers go in the black. They’re operating in the red from January through October. November and December ... that is the meat and potatoes of the industry.”

The mall has 140 retailers in stores, plus kiosks. At Christmastime, the number of kiosks doubles, from about 20 to 40. Stores hire additional employees, and so does Michael.

“We bring in extra security and work with local law enforcement to provide a safe and enjoyable shopping experience for the community,” he said. “You have more cars in the parking lot, so you have fender benders and that sort of thing. We also beef up the housekeeping staff. When you have more people, you have more trash, more dirt, more stuff that needs to be cleaned.”

On Thursday, Christine Veppert came to the mall with her 3-year-old son, R.J., and her neighbor’s daughter, Jada Long, also 3. The kids got excited when they saw Santa’s headquarters under construction.

“I think they just realized that it’s getting close to Christmas,” said Christine, 37, of Collinsville, who also enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look at how the giant tree is constructed.

Santa at St. Clair Square

  • Arrival: 10 a.m. Saturday
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 23 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Christmas Eve
  • Reindeer breaks: Santa will take breaks to feed his reindeer from 1 to 2 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 2 to 3 p.m. Sundays
  • Pet photo nights: 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Nov. 15; dogs and cats only (must be leashed)
  • Santa talks: Free
  • Professional photo packages: $23 to $48
  • Information: www.stclairsquare.com
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