DARIEN, Conn. -- If you put a red suit on and grow a beard, you'll always get requests for puppy dogs and horses, among other things.
So says Joe Warren, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Darien and the resident Santa at Darien Sport Shop , who has been playing the big red fella for 38 years. He says he got into the Kris Kringle business years ago when the owner of then Stamford-based Cannondale Bikes, where his wife worked, asked him to put on the outfit for their company Christmas party.
When the bash was over and Warren went to return the outfit, he was told to keep it. The rest, is more or less, North Pole history.
'Once someone hears you have the suit, they come calling," said Warren of the domino effect that happened soon after that. (The fact that he looks like Santa also helps.)
Hence, his long reign at Darien Sport Shop. He also does a host of private events, mainly with churches and schools. From now through Dec. 26, his elves report a calendar chock full of close to 40 appearances. Warren guestimates, come the next few weeks at the Sport Shop, he'll take an excess of 1,200 pictures.
Still, he loves every minute of it. "It never gets old," said the Darien resident. "The kids are amazing and it's always fascinating to hear what it is they want. You can tell the ones that have made up their requests on their own or ones that come from listening to older siblings or ones that are repeating what they've heard on TV.
"Every time you think you’ve heard it all some little kid with blue blue eyes does something completely different that melts your heart."
So far, Warren, aka Santa, says there's no one big ticket toy kids are asking for like in years past when Tickle Me Elmo or Cabbage Patch Kids were all the rage. Pokemon cards have been a popular request, he said, as are Legos and, of course, those aforementioned puppies and horses.
According to Geri Corrigan of Darien Sport Shop, the top favorites her store is selling are Barbie, Shopkins, Surprizamals Stuffed Animals, Drones, Hyper VR Virtual Reality Head Set, AfterShokz Wireless Headphones and Iscream Pillows.
Right now the store, in partnership with Greenwich-based Jack Dog Studio , is holding a special Santa photo contest. Tag your photos on FaceBook or Instagram #DSSanta16 or @dariensportshop to be entered to win a free family portrait sitting and 11 x 14 print from Jack Dog. One winner will be awarded each week.
Darien Sport Shop, normally closed on Sundays, will be open for holiday shopping and Santa photos on Sunday, Dec. 11, and Sunday, Dec.18, from noon to 5 p.m. Expect Santa in the store for photos on the following dates:
- Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m.
- Saturday, Dec. 10 and Saturday, Dec.17 from noon to 3 p.m.
- Sunday, Dec. 11 from noon to 3 p.m.
- Sunday, Dec. 18 from noon to 2 p.m.
- Friday, Dec. 23 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
- Saturday, Dec. 24 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- The store is open late on Thursdays until 7 p.m.
Head to 1127 Post Road, 203-655-2575.
Santa will also be at Mill River Park in Stamford at the new carousel ride on Thursday Dec. 15, and Friday, Dec. 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and the same times on Thursday, Dec. 22, and Friday, Dec. 23.
If you're out of town and miss Santa, no worries. Warren also plays Uncle Sam come July 4th.