The local newspapers have conspired with the television weatherologists to track Santa, but not everyone is buying into the cover story. Eric Holland of Fellowship Bible Church in Bentonville is demanding that the Christian Majority in Northwest Arkansas stop playing nice and start calling Christmas Parades and Christmas Breaks what they really are, social graces and constitutional commands be damned. Christopher Bell of Green Forest is in the Carroll County jail for stealing Baby Jesus, while Ronnie Floyd remains at large.
Through it all, we have managed to create Santa Claus in our own image, and he is still busy working the malls and encouraging commerce in Northwest Arkansas as he has in stores nationally since 1840. The best news coverage of the man behind the beard is filed today by Scarlet Sims of The Morning News about the jolly fellow working since late November at the Pinnacle Hills Promenade Food Court.
This particular Santa is working on contract through Qualex, which is under Santa Plus as part of Kodak, which pays the mall a commission from proceeds from photos with Santa. Beginner Santas can make about $4,000 for the five-week season, and some can demand as much as $250 an hour. That is the reason for the season and is more than most other hourly wage employees make in the stores at Pennacle Hills Promenade.
The Pinnacle Hills Promenade Santa is one of 72 professional Santas trained and represented by agents Billy and Alma Gooch of Naturally Santa, Inc. in Colorado Springs. Gooch's Santas cannot smoke, drink or womanize, and they undergo drug testing and background checks before being approved. This is probably essential, considering how many pervs there are in Benton County who might try to get work as a Mall Santa or American Legion chaplain.