ASHLAND, Va. — Christmas is going to be a little different this year for families whose traditions include visiting Santa at Bass Pro Shops. Paul Davis, who spent the last nine years as the Bass Pro Santa in Ashland, will not be there anymore.
“Unfortunately this year, the corporate office made the decision to make all stores use a Santa service located in Chicago,” Davis explained in a Facebook post. “The store wanted me to return as their Santa this year and had me contact the owner of the [Santa] service. I have spoken with the owner of the service on several occasions and we were unable to come to an acceptable agreement on contract terms.”
Davis said he was disappointed, but held no ill will toward the people at Bass Pro.
“I can only say good things about the store, the management, and the employees,” he said. “Most of all to the great and loyal customers that returned year after year to visit with me. They have been great to me for all of these years.”
Cassandra Petrosky is one of Davis’ loyal fans.
Her children, who have autism, considered Davis both Santa and a friend.
“He was so nice to them, took his time with them and listened to them, even though sometimes it’s hard to understand them when they talk due to speech delay,” she said. “Every year they saw him, they would run up to him with excitement and give him hugs.”
She said her boys never rushed to other “mall Santas.” She said Davis got her children to open up and talk about things that were not even Christmas related.
“To them, he is the real Santa,” Petrosky said.
Davis said his relationship with Bass Pro began in 2008 with a phone call.
Someone from the store called Davis and asked if he wanted to be the store’s Santa that year.
“I said I would be happy to come in and discuss it,” Davis recalled. “I came in on the appointed day, and trying to be stealthy, stood behind a boat to observe their operation. While standing there the assistant manager approached me and asked if I would be their Santa. Stressing that I was not there to step on anyone’s toes, he said that he had to have the store’s best interest as his motivation. I said yes and that was the beginning of a nine-year relationship.”
When asked about Mr. Davis and in-store Santa policy changes, a corporate spokesperson for Bass Pro Shops offered the following statement:
Santa’s Wonderland offers more than a million free photos to families each year and we are constantly evaluating how to improve the experience for our customers. While this individual declined our invitation to return, we look forward to continuing to offer Richmond-area families a great experience with Santa later this year as part of our Santa’s Wonderland tradition.
While Davis said the decision not to continue at Bass Pro left him with “great sadness” in his heart, he hoped to land his Santa sleigh elsewhere this Christmas.
“I will be available for bookings to the general public, corporate events, parades, tree lighting [ceremonies], private family events, photo events, and all sorts of things,” he said. “I look forward to one of the most exciting seasons since I became a professional Santa!”