Meet Southdale's Santa
Surprising, behind-the-scenes stories from the first mall's St. Nick
Ken Cloud in costume as Santa Claus
Photo by jon rose
Most of the year, Ken Cloud lives in Colorado as a retired retailer and caregiver for his two young grandchildren. When this holiday season arrives, though, he’ll travel to the Twin Cities for his annual stint as Santa Claus at Southdale Mall in Edina. Cloud grew up in the Midwest—and Southdale was the first mall he ever visited as a child.
“Before I stepped back from my working life, I was a retailer in clothing. I had several boutiques for children’s wear and one for ladies. Finally I decided to step back from a hectic schedule of running five stores and raising two daughters.”
“I received a correspondence from an old friend who was working as a Santa. My youngest daughter and I stopped by and I was enchanted. The more I thought about it, it fit my life transition. My friend had some contacts in the business that he said I could call. I got some photos taken and raised a beard in the meantime—this was months in the making—and as luck would have it, I contacted someone who had a vacancy to fill.”
“My first day as a Santa was very interesting. The shopping center had thrown what we call a hard opening—a very advertised event. They parachuted Santa and Mrs. Claus into the parking lot—that wasn’t me, it was someone else. They picked up the parachuting Santa in a horse-drawn carriage, took them beneath the mall, then he got out and I got in. We came out and greeted people and, well, it was magical.”
“Children are honest. Some are more forthcoming and some are more guarded. You get requests that are absolutely adorable. One little girl told me she wanted a pink feather, that’s what would make her happy. Another young man of about 7 told me he wanted his own website because his grandparents didn’t live nearby and he wanted to be able to communicate over the internet with them through his artwork and photos.”
“The toddlers and infants are a little more reticent to sit with a stranger. Frankly, they see a man with this unusual costume on, with lights and cameras and decorations that can be a little intimidating. I do my best to take it slowly, to be patient and help calm them down a bit. Deeper into the season, there are more people standing in line and those kids who know they’re going to see Santa are dying to come up. Sometimes we get whole families, with group photos. Southdale has accommodated that well with a large, comfortable seat. You get parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, special-needs groups, the pet experience. Sometimes you have office groups. It’s good to be part of the Christmas spirit that’s beyond commercialism. It’s such a warm experience for me.
“You ask people if they would like their lives to make a difference and most of us would answer yes. And I believe that I do. This has enriched my life. I came to realize that Santa is real. Santa lives in your heart. If you can keep that Santa-like ideal in your heart, you will be a better person.”
“Now that I’m a grandfather, the kind and benevolent Santa persona is something I try to be all year round. My appearance doesn’t change with the seasons, and children will look at me on a 95-degree day and call me Santa. I’m very aware that kids see me this way—they don’t want to see me arguing with someone over a parking space or sending back my toast. I’ll stop and talk to kids even if I’m on my way to something else. One year I flew to a small town in Colorado and my children picked me up at the airport. I was getting my bags when I felt a tug at my sleeve; I looked down and there was this little boy who looked up and said, Santa, thanks for the fish.”
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