BABYLON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork)– This tough economy for one Long Island community put the kibosh on a Christmas tradition. Santa’s contract was literally terminated. CBS 2s Elise Finch found out how this brought about a surge of early holiday spirit.
Every year, the Saint James General Store is transformed into a picturesque Christmas village, complete with a real life Santa Claus.
“They really make it feel like Christmas when you walk through the door,” said David McKell.
The former New York state trooper turned actor, McKell has been playing the coveted roll since 2001, but this was shaping up to be the year without Santa Claus.
“The lady in charge they told me they werent going to fund it anymore,” McKell told CBS 2′s Elise Finch. “I was very disappointed and very shocked.”
The store is partially funded by Suffolk County tax dollars. Officials there are making tough choices to balance a budget so Santa’s $660 contract was canceled.
“We had instructed our County departments to cut where they can because we’ve lost so much state aid. They came back and said ‘here’s an expenditure we can probably get done for nothing’,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy explained. “There’s a lot of good volunteer Santas out there.”
Residents told Finch that they understand the need for budget cuts, but giving Santa a pink slip at this time of year is a mistake.
“I think it’s a tradition we need. We need the joy. Especially at these times,” said Claire Cammarata.
“I think a lot of people count on Santa Claus being here so something should be done,” said Kate Decamp.
Steve Bellone, Babylon Town Supervisor and candidate for County Executive wrote a personal check to cover McKell’s fee, saying “There’s always a place for Santa in Suffolk County.” Some say it should have come to that, but are nevertheless happy the issue is resolved.
“We’re very, very happy. Santa Clause lives here at the general store,” said Karen Sheedy.
“Now I feel wonderful. I feel like the Christmas spirit is back,” McKell said.
Santa will return to his rocking chair to pose for photos and listen to gift requests starting the weekend after Thanksgiving, greeting the news with a hearty “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”
Mckell wasn’t willing to donate his performance because he says he spends money to make his portrayal authentic, but he says he’s thrilled to zip up his red suit and play Santa for the tenth year in a row.
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