South Charlotte

Ballantyne Santas spread holiday cheer

Their bellies jiggle, their laughs are jovial and their hand-waving is contagious.

The Bissell Santas in Ballantyne Corporate Park are all about spreading Christmas cheer. For 25 years, the Bissell Co. has presented its version of Santas at the corners of their corporate parks to give the community a little holiday pick-me-up.

"We are here just to make people smile," said Wesley VanHoy, senior engineer for the Bissell Co. "If I can get a wave or a honk, I know I've made someone's day just a little better."

VanHoy has been playing Santa for 11 of the 12 years he's been at Bissell. He signs up because it's something he looks forward to all year.

"Every year, I try and think of new things I can do" he said. "I've always wanted to take a golf cart and make it look like a sleigh and drive it around Ballantyne."

The tradition of the Bissell Santas is something the company is proud of. It began in SouthPark, before the company moved to Ballantyne 13 years ago. Employees of the Bissell Co. volunteer to stand at various corners of the corporate park, waving, dancing and encouraging Christmas sprit to the thousands of people who pass through every morning.

Ann Saari, the attendant service coordinator for the Bissell Co., tries to make the most of her time as Santa. She has organized the Santa event for the last four years.

"It's actually a lot of fun," said Saari. "I like to get out there and do a little dance. No one can tell who you are, so you can be silly and no one would know it was you."

While the employees don't get paid extra for participating, this year the volunteer list has been longer than ever. Thirty-two Bissell Co. employees have volunteered.

"We get paid when people wave and honk and smile," said Saari. "I may even get to add a few extra corners this year with all the volunteers we've had."

The Santas stand at their posts 7:30-8:30 a.m. Dec. 2-22, at nine locations throughout the park.

Some can be seen inside the park, while others can be seen from Johnston Road.

They can also be seen at Sharon Road in SouthPark and in Providence Park.

"We are here through good and bad weather, hot or cold, rain or shine," said VanHoy. "If by chance there's not a Santa at a regular corner, we get calls from people wondering where they were."

The Santas don't all look alike. While Bissell provides coordinating costumes, each Santa is allowed to "stuff" or "not stuff," depending on their preference. Renee Kilminster, a property manager for the Bissell Company for 11 years, said some Santas opt to "not stuff."

"Some of them look like Santa and have really round bellies, and then there are the Santas who look a little emaciated," she said.

"Either way, we always get a lot of attention."

Sometimes, the adults get more excited than the children. "People will practically hang out of their car windows," said Kilminster. "They flash their lights and honk, and you can just see the big smiles on their faces."

Each Santa has their favorite spot, but VanHoy likes to stand on the corner near the Goddard School. "The buses of kids pull in and they are so excited to see you," he said. "It's so much fun to see a bus-load of kids waving and smiling and laughing."

Kilminster chimed in: "Yeah, but by the time they get to school, they've seen about eight Santas and are probably wondering what's going on." As she laughed, she added, "But it is fun to see the buses coming. They really are the most fun."

Bissell prides itself in reaching out to the community with their yearly events, but it's during the Christmas season that it gets very busy. Holidays events in December include Tea with Mrs. Claus, The Gingerbread House competition, brunch with Santa and the Cookie and Cupcake Challenge.

While the Bissell Santas aren't affiliated with a charity, the other events are, including nonprofits such as the Lift Up Foundation and Levine Children's Hospital.

Saari said the community enjoys the Santas, and they are happy to be reaching out.

"We get calls right around November from people wondering when the Santas will be out," she said. "It's a great tradition and we are all glad to do it."