Designed to delight: Santa's Front Porch Experience
Despite the effects of COVID-19, a Sherwood real estate company is making sure that kids of all ages still enjoy the season by transforming its Old Town business into Santa's Christmas Cottage for the holidays.
In the past, Gardner Team Real Estate has decorated its First Street business, located in a 2,000-square-foot Queen Anne-style Victorian home that once housed the Lavender Teahouse, with holiday décor, often allowing visitors to chat with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
"This year, we can't do that, just with everything going on. So, just to keep the holiday spirit alive and fun … we made it an outdoor experience and called it Santa's Front Porch Experience at Santa's Christmas Cottage," said Amber Gardner, who along with husband Jason owns the real estate company. "It's a whole front porch experience. As you come up its one attraction after the next."
Now, adhering to social distancing protocol, those visiting the porch can look inside the home and get a peak inside Santa's living room and his writing desk in what Gardner calls looking into Santa's snow globe.
"It's all Christmassy and whimsy in here and they can look for different things like his boots," said Gardner, noting that the Jolly Old Elf isn't there during the daytime because "he comes and he works at night and he picks up letters."
Also on the porch is a "naughty and nice" meter, which Gardner described as an 8-foot-tall machine built by some very special elves. Children stand next to it, shout their name and then wait for the outcome. (Spoiler alert: Everyone ends up with a "nice" rating.)
Still, what tops the "naughty and nice" meter is a whimsical toy shoot that Gardner says is connected to the toy shop at the North Pole.
"And if you ring a bell that's on the toy shoot — if you happen to be here when the elves are working at the North Pole, which we have posted hours — then they will send you a toy through the toy shoot," she said, noting each is an age-appropriate toy because there's a "Santa cam" on the porch.
Also on the porch is a big red mailbox that goes to the North Pole and if children include a return address, they will receive a reply, although Gardner said Santa can't answer after Dec. 20 because he's getting ready for Christmas.
In addition, one of the popular attractions that continues from the last several years is an "elf portal," located in tree outside the business.
"It has a door and stairs and swirly lights. It's so cute and whimsical," said Gardner, noting that many residents come to take photos of the portal in hopes of seeing an elf or two.
But this year's festivities also has a pay-it-forward twist to them, as Gardner helps out eight Old Town restaurants that have suffered from lack of customers due to COVID-19 restrictions by selling special holiday baskets for children made by elves at the North Pole as well as selling sponsorships to specific essential businesses, and electronic entries into a virtual drawing with all proceeds collected going straight to fundraising.
Already, Gardner Team Real Estate has begun purchasing gift cards in $25 increments among each Old Town restaurant location — Symposium Coffee, Sesame Donuts, Smockville Brewhouse, Mason restaurant, 503 Uncorked, Clancy's Pub and Restaurant, Fat Milo's and Hungry Hero — with plans to return those to the community in an upcoming virtual drawing where there will be multiple winners.
Gardner said she is hoping winners will spend the gift cards right away, using them towards making larger purchases needed for stimulating business. As of Dec. 11, $8,500 had been raised.
She said they have a Facebook group with more than 700 people in the group that have shared photos and videos of the event.
"It's just fun, magic to see," said Gardner.
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