By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
When Marting’s department store closed Randy Stout said he felt like there was a kind of hole in the Christmas season in the local community. Not only was the area’s favorite Christmas shopping store closed, but kids didn’t have access to the real Santa Claus they had talked to over the years. The very Santa they had confided in about all their deepest wishes for Christmas day.
Stout was the man behind beard, and has tried to keep the tradition going where he could.
“We didn’t want the Christmas spirit to get lost when Marting’s closed down,” the longtime Marting’s Santa said, as he prepares for the Portsmouth Daily Times’ Santa Claus visits to the Paul E. Johnson Memorial Emporium. “So that’s why we kept everything up.”
For 30 years, Stout had donned the red suit to the delight of several generations.
“The last four or five years that Marting’s was there, I was in their basement every Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Stout said. “I enjoyed seeing a lot of people from Portsmouth, even as far away as Ashland, Ky., would come in to see Santa. It really made my day to see the kids smile and happy. It makes for a good holiday. It was a very special place. When Mr. (Larry) Leiter left town and Marting’s closed down I saw the opportunity to keep the Marting’s Christmas spirit alive.”
Not only does Santa plan on being at the Emporium for the Times’ special holiday events, but he will have, on occasion, Frosty the Snowman and Mrs. Claus with him.
“My wife is involved and she plays Frosty, but we’ve got a new surprise,” Stout said. “She’s also going to be Mrs. Claus. We just had a new outfit made. So, from time to time we’ll have Frosty and Mrs. Claus. It’s sort of a family thing. Everybody pitches in.”
The event will feature pictures with Santa, entertainment, vendors, and other surprises.
Michael Messerly, general manager of the Portsmouth Daily Times, said Santa will visit the Emporium from Dec. 8 to 11, and Dec. 15 to 18. Thursdays and Fridays from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.
“We’re also excited that Steve Free, award-winning recording artist, will be performing at noon on Dec. 10,” Messerly said. “He has a new Christmas album and it will be the perfect opportunity for people to hear him sing some of the songs from that album and to pick up a copy while they are there.”
Messerly said he is still looking for choirs from schools and churches to perform and vendors who want to sell their merchandise to participate. Messerly said anyone wanting to participate should call the co-sponsors Main Street Portsmouth at 740-464-0203.
Stout said he is looking forward to seeing some of the children he talked with now come and bring their children to meet Santa.
“I’ve talked with people, even today, who used to come down and see me at Marting’s, and now they have kids they want to bring to see me personally,” Stout said. “It’s sort of a Portsmouth tradition we can keep going.”
There is always a reason people step out and begin a tradition, and Randy Stout said he knows why he first dressed as Santa, and began a career that has carried over through the years.
“I started doing it because I enjoyed seeing the kids happy,” Stout said. “That just made my holidays.”
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.