Santaville gift store closing up shop

This will be the last year of a Santa’s Gift Shop at the Princeton Civic Betterment Club’s annual Santaville, the club has decided.

Judy Barnes, president of the Civic Betterment Club, was busy as usual this autumn, preparing for Santaville which will be this Saturday, Dec. 1, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Barnes was in the lower level of Bremer Bank in Princeton on Nov. 19, for example, making ornaments and other homemade gifts for this year’s Santa’s Gift Shop as she talked about Santaville’s future.

Santa’s Gift Shop, at Santaville, is where gifts (many homemade and some bought and donated) are displayed for children age 5-12 to purchase for the holiday, the gifts are priced from 50 cents to $5.

Admission is free to this year’s Santaville, which will have a concession area with beverages and possibly some sweets that adults can purchase while waiting for their children to finish their Santaville shopping. Each child will be able to get a free cookie and milk at the event.

The Santaville gift shop has always been set up so it is out of sight of the waiting parents. Inside the shop, a crew of volunteers, many dressed in elf costumes, help the children shop, and ring up the purchases. This year’s Santaville will also have face painting, things to color and the chance to visit Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. Photos with Santa will be sold for $5, or $3 if a non perishable food item is donated.

Attendance at Santaville has been large in the nearly four decades of its existence. The club estimates the attendance last year at somewhere between 200 and 240.

Popularity, therefore, has never been an issue for the event, which has been located in many places around town, including North Elementary, the civic club, and in most recent time the Trinity Crossing Center, and finally Trinity Lutheran.

But the work of making gifts for Santaville has “gotten to be too much” for the civic club, Barnes said. “So many (of the members) today are older.”

It’s not that the club doesn’t have help for Santaville, it’s just that there is not enough of it, Barnes said. Also, the younger residents who want to help with the gift end of Santaville, often have jobs that cut into their available time, Barnes added.


Change planned as part of centennial

While the exact details of next year’s Santaville are still in the talking stage, it is certain the event won’t have the Santa’s Gift Shop next year. There likely will still be some crafts for sale at Santaville in 2013, but that will be the extent of it, she said.

What the civic club plans for next year’s holiday season is to return the Santaville to the roots of yesteryear where attendees were entertained with activities like a movie, games and a bag of holiday treats, Barnes said. A major impetus for returning to what might be called an “old-fashioned Christmas” kind of Santaville, Barnes said, is the fact that the club will reach its centennial birthday next September.

Barnes noted that her son Chad Barth and her grandson C.J., 14, have been helping with the craft making, as have a number of students at Princeton High School and many around the community. One of the adult helpers has been Barb Dierks, with her quilting group at Trinity Lutheran, and another group that has been helping is the Leos Club, the youth affiliate of the Lions Club.

Barnes made it clear that she has not lost interest in preparing for Santaville.

“I love it,” she said. “I’ve been doing it since 2003 after (husband) Bob died. I had not heard of Santaville before.”

Two years after starting out, she became in charge of the crafts part and has continued the job since.

“They call me the bag lady of Princeton,” Barnes went on, explaining how she ends up with voluminous amounts of bags full of items that people have donated for making Santaville crafts.

Barnes was not lamenting the change in the civic club’s plans for Santaville next year, however, but instead talked enthusiastically about the old-fashioned type of Santaville being planned.