By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
Portsmouth Daily Times presents Christmas. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement, but the Times will be bringing Santa Claus to town for several appearances, and they are inviting the public to participate, and vendors to be a part of it all.
“When I moved to the area I noticed that we didn’t really have a mall anywhere nearby, and immediately asked the question, ‘Where do people go for their children, their families, to have a picture with Santa?’” Portsmouth Daily Times General Manager Michael Messerly said. “And there weren’t great answers that I thought served the community.”
That is when Messerly decided the Portsmouth Daily Times would step out and schedule a series of appearances by Santa Claus at the Paul E. Johnson Emporium on Chillicothe Street in Portsmouth.
“We have the promotional power,” Messerly said. “We have a want to do it. We want to reach out more to the community — that’s my goal for the newspaper. And I thought, what better event than to host Santa, to bring Santa to Portsmouth and give everybody in the area the opportunity to come to downtown. You don’t have to go far, and we didn’t just want to do it. We wanted to do it big.”
Messerly said one of the keys to being able to put such an event together is the cooperation the Times is getting from Main Street Portsmouth.
“This is kind of a launch of a number of things we’d like to do throughout the community over the course of a year,” Messerly said. “And we thought, what better event to kick it off than with Santa.”
The event will be Dec. 8 through 11, and Dec. 15 through 18. Thursdays and Fridays will be 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays will be noon to 4 p.m.
“This is a very inclusive event. The Daily Times wants as much of the community involved in this as possible. What we’re looking to do is have church choirs and school choirs, if they would like to perform at the event, to get in contact with Main Street Portsmouth at 740-464-0203, and we will certainly take the information and put together a schedule to do that,” Messerly said. “Ideally, we’d like to have choirs there singing to help with the atmosphere of the event the entire time it is going on.”
Messerly said the Times is also soliciting vendors to come and be a part of what he expects to be one of the area’s largest events.
“They could be vendors or area merchants. They will have the ability to sell their merchandise as a part of the event. Again, they should contact Main Street Portsmouth,” Messerly said. “So it’s more than just coming and getting your picture with Santa; there will be opportunities for people to do business with local businesses during the holidays.”
What is the goal of the Santa Claus visits?
“Our goal is, if nothing else, to make Portsmouth the destination when it comes to Christmas time. And there’s nothing better to own than Christmas,” Messerly said. “This is a great opportunity for the city and what better time could there be to be drawing people to our community?”
Messerly went on a search for the real Santa Claus, and he believes he found him.
“We actually have two Santa Clauses but the one that will be there most of the time is the Santa Claus who was the last one to work at Marting’s,” Messerly said. “That’s just kind of a nice little touch that I was hoping to get. They came to us and we just said this makes a lot of sense.”
Messerly said he expects parents to be as excited as the children, because many of them sat on this Santa’s lap at Marting’s and told him what they wanted for Christmas.
“Marting’s used to do it for many years. And when it closed we basically have gone through a 10-year drought where people didn’t have the one place to go to be with Santa Claus,” Messerly said. “So the fact that the Daily Times is going to bring him back to the Paul E. Johnson Emporium, the same Santa, what a great connection. What a great gift for people, who, as children, went to Marting’s and got their pictures taken. And now it’s going to be the same Santa Claus, but just at a different venue. It’s just nice to bring Portsmouth’s history back with today.”
Jennifer Foster, director of Main Street Portsmouth, said her organization is excited about partnering with the Daily Times to bring Santa Claus to the downtown area.
“It’s going to bring tons of people downtown. It’s going to bring a lot of Christmas joy and spirit that the town maybe has lacked a little bit since Marting’s closed,” Foster said. “A lot of people used to see Santa down there and I think this is really going to bring back that community sense of Christmas that we used to experience.”
Foster said Main Street Portsmouth will be setting up a booth to wrap presents and they’ll have hot chocolate for those in attendance.
“We’ll be able to educate the public a little bit about Main Street and what we do to help the community,” Foster said. “That’s exciting,too, to get that opportunity to educate everybody.”
Messerly said the Santa Claus appearances are a springboard for the Daily Times’ involvement in the community.
“The Daily Times, with me as its general manager, is very involved in the community,” Messerly said. “I’m working with the Portsmouth school district. We’re going to do an art exhibit at one of the local galleries in February. I’ve got plans to do something next year in relation to Halloween. We’re looking to do something with Easter. And I’m also open to ideas. If people want to come and visit with me about events that we can help put together, that benefit the community, we would be receptive. Our reporters, our advertising people, everyone who works here, we all live in the community. And we are all willing to invest in the community. And this is the first step.”