BOZEMAN, Mont. — Santa Claus moved from table to table, sitting down with kids at the Gallatin County fairgrounds and asking them at each stop if they were good boys and girls.
Four 5-year-olds climbed up onto his lap. Some cried, some were happy. And then he told them to be sure to have their parents leave his favorite cookies out: sauerkraut and onion.
The kids looked on in shock. Mothers shook their heads.
This scene played out for nearly seven hours earlier this month at the Bozeman Kiwanis Club annual pancake breakfast. In years past, that never would've happened.
But this year, the club bought a Santa Claus suit for the occasion. The club bought the suit from Coolsantasuits.com, a website owned and operated by a few guys with an office at Four Corners.
"We bought it to save money," said Bill Jelenik, who dressed as Santa that day and serves as president of the Bozeman Kiwanis Club. "And I enjoy being Santa Claus."
Blue Fade Inc. is the website's parent company, founded and operated by Montana State University graduate Eric Cade. The company looks for niche products that will sell well online, such as pool supplies, inflatable furniture and, of course, Santa Claus suits.
"I was just in Denver, and they have a two-story costume place that runs year round. Here we don't have that. When you're not in a big city, you pretty much have to turn to the Internet for that," Cade said. "It's just a little niche market we picked up. Our bread and butter stuff is more the pool stuff we sell online but it helps us through that down season."
The company doesn't manufacture the suits at Four Corners. It works with a few different costume shops, including one of the largest costume companies in the country, Rubie's Costume Co. Blue Fade orders suits and accessories in bulk and ships them out as orders come in online or over the phone.
The suits and beards they carry run from the $40 variety — used primarily for pub crawls — to $500 suits and theatrical quality beards made of yak hair that go for about $350.
"We cater to Santas who do this for a living, who make all their money in this 40 days in the year," said Evan Tennant, operations manager. "Yak was the most real (looking)."
The Santa season is pretty short, he said.
Already sales are starting to tail off, Cade said. Professional Santas tend to buy their suits well ahead of time, whereas now, most folks buying suits tend to be people dressing up for their office parties, friends or family, he said.
"I always think it's probably the funnest time of the year for us. Santas that call up are usually happy people," Cade said. "We get people sending us emails and signing them as Santa Jim."
Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com