When they think of Santas, Richmonders always think first of the Legendary Santa at Santaland, the last remnant of the long-defunct downtown Thalhimers department store. The Legendary Santa is a Richmond tradition that has lasted more than 50 years. This Santa began at Miller & Rhoads and when that store closed moved to Thalhimers. He is still enjoyed by up to 10,000 people a year, right up to 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Sure, at Santaland you get everything Richmond has come to expect: Rudolph, Frosty, the Snow Queen, singing elves, breakfast and lunch opportunities with Santa. Be warned, though, the line can last two or three hours and you don't get a picture free. (A professional studio is on hand if you want a shot.) Lightest crowds: Mondays through Wednesdays, especially before schools let out for the winter break. Try www.seesanta.org
for dates and times. OK, that's the old way. But if you want to avoid the long lines and want to visit a Santa at a Richmond institution that actually exists, head to the Pleasants Hardware flagship store on West Broad Street. They have a nifty Santa thing, too. And this Santa can even help you pick out an extension cord for your outdoor lights. Begun about eight years ago, Pleasants' annual Santa event is free every Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It's low-key right now, but gaining popularity. Here's the deal: You get a free Polaroid shot (donations are requested, but no kid is turned away), as much as 10 minutes of Santa time to give a full wish list, and - best yet - visitors only have to deal with only about 150 other Santa-seekers on a typical Saturday. Oh, and don't worry about dressing up. "Kids come in with their work belts and tools or just in their everyday clothes - it doesn't matter," says Woody Robertson Jr., who isn't admitting anything, but who has never been seen in the same place at the same time as the Pleasants Santa. "We get a lot of kids who can't afford to go to a fancy place in their Sunday finest," Robertson adds. "And that's great."