With a background in theater, James Ralston brings his flair for entertaining to Clarks Ace Hardware, where for most of the year, he works as a cashier. But from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, he transforms into Santa Claus and spreads holiday joy at the operation’s stores in Ellicott City and Columbia, Maryland.
The season officially kicks off with a Ladies Night Out event on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, where Santa makes his appearance. Then, for three hours each Saturday during the holiday season, Ralston dons his Santa suit for Santa Saturdays at the Ellicott City location.
During the event, customers create at a craft station, send their letters to Santa through the store’s holiday mailbox, enjoy the model train and shop for live greens and trees, says Steph White, director of marketing and community outreach.
Santa sits in an oversized sleigh for complimentary photos with customers of all ages, including some furry friends, and gives out candy canes and Ace Hardware truck PEZ dispensers. Ralston had been dressing up as Santa Claus in the store for years just for fun, but White officially started Santa Saturdays in 2021 when she joined the company.
“As a parent of a young child, I wanted to have a set time when parents could bring in their children and were guaranteed to see Santa,” White says. “It can be a hassle going to the mall to see Santa; trying to find parking and then paying a fortune for the photo didn’t interest me. So I decided if we could offer this free activity every weekend to our Ace Hardware customers, it was one way we could connect with our community.”
When the operation, which has been in business for over 175 years, opened its second location in Columbia in 2022, Santa Saturdays expanded to Santa Sundays at the new store with all the same fun and activities.
“We want Clarks Ace Hardware to be a destination in our community,” White says. “And we want this event to be an opportunity for customers to visit with Santa, pick up their holiday decor and kick off the holiday season with us.”
Brightly Giving Back
In the spirit of giving back, White’s Ace Hardware sponsors a Christmas light recycling drive each year. Chris White, one of the owners and the operations manager, says the program started in 2011 when the operation partnered with the City of Carmel, Indiana. As the program has grown, other organizations have joined the effort to collect even more lights, including Carmel Clay Schools’ Green Team, City of Carmel Utilities and Technology Recyclers.
From late November through the end of January, members of the community can bring their unwanted or damaged holiday light sets to any of the three store locations in Carmel, Fishers or Indianapolis, Indiana. Technology Recyclers then collects and recycles the lights from all the stores.
“Recycling inoperable or inefficient holiday lights keeps those items out of landfills, which reduces the long-term carbon impact on our environment,” White says. “Last year alone, White’s Ace collected more than 9,500 pounds of lights. Overall, the entire program has collected more than 13 tons of lights since 2011.”
White says they have many customers who come in to drop off lights and end up shopping in the store.
“We are a locally owned and operated business whose team members and owners live in and around the communities where our stores are located,” he says. “We feel moved to help support and improve our communities whenever possible through programs such as this one.”
Saying Cheese to Spread Cheer
Christmas cheer goes big at M&M Lumber in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For the last decade, employees have taken a company Christmas photo and displayed it on the company’s delivery truck.
The tradition started in the 1990s, when the company would plaster photos of a local football team on the delivery truck and advertise in that team’s program. Over time, the company found other ways to use their advertising dollars and began putting their company’s Christmas photo on the truck, says Whitney McKellar, who is a buyer and in charge of customer relations for the company.
“We also put the photo on Christmas cards and send them out to retired employees, customers and vendors each year,” McKellar says. “Over the years, we have sat in the millwork bins, on bundles of lumber, on delivery trucks and in other fun spots around the business for the photo—whatever we can do to make it fun and get everyone involved.”