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SOUL Santa visits "Villa" in Greece


This year, the Mall of America welcomed its first Santa of color. And that was the inspiration behind SOUL Santa at The Mall at Greece Ridge.

SOUL Santa visited the store “Villa” for a few days this week. The store brought him in to promote an uplifting holiday spirit.

The event was born a few years ago. Chris Cardwell of GoodKnews Photography has held the event at his studio for the past three years.

“I decided to do SOUL Santa about four years ago just because I wanted to bring a Santa to the community that looked like my people and something that the kids could look up to as well,” said Cardwell.

This year, he asked Villa if they would be interested in taking part.

Store manager Rick Hunley said he was all for it.

“To me, it was a no brainer,” said Hunley. “I reached out to one of my regional managers, and when I told him, he didn’t hesitate. It was like, immediately, let’s do it!”

The response, they say, has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Customers love it,” said Hunley. “We’ve been getting a lot of smiles, a lot of waves. We have adults coming in, taking pictures, so it’s not just kids. So everybody’s getting involved.”

“Happily, all the kids have been enjoying Santa,” said Cardwell. “Not just the kids from the urban community; everybody has been. So I think it says a lot about the community of Rochester, coming out and supporting it.”

Hunley says, while the influx of customers is a plus, there’s something more important about Santa’s visit.

“We’ve been getting good foot traffic, and I think that’s pretty much what we always want at this time of season,” he said. “Obviously, foot traffic for sales, but, at the same time, a good opportunity to do something different.”

“I think the biggest thing we would try to do is just make sure, we want to be a difference-maker,” he added.

Cardwell agrees.

“I just believe having a Santa that looks like the people or their parents kind of gives a message saying, ‘Okay, this is someone that cares about you,’” said Cardwell. “We are loving, and the person that looks like you is supporting you and giving gifts as well.”

“We see kids walking by, we see their face light up,” Cardwell added. “It doesn’t matter if their brown, yellow green. All the kids love Santa Claus. It just goes to show, whether it’s SOUL Santa or regular Santa, kids just love that figure.”

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