Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about the duties of your position.
Dan King: I classify myself as a specialty Santa. Most mall Santas take the kid, put them on your lap, you take the picture and you ship them away. If it takes 20 minutes, 30 minutes, I try to do whatever it takes to get a child not to cry. Sometimes it takes 10 to 15 pictures to get one or two good ones, but that’s what we do here. We are here for the kids.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
King: I am fat and I have gray hair and a gray beard — what else can I do besides look like Kenny Rogers?
NNBW: What do you like most about being a Santa?
King: The kids. They are the greatest economy we have, and we need to take care of our kids. Just by taking a minute or two and talking to them, it is the greatest thing in the world.
NNBW: Do you get recognized as Santa outside of your costume?
King: Yes, I do. I usually have a red shirt, blue suspenders and either blue jeans or some kind of dark colored pants. Right away people say, “There’s Santa.”
NNBW: What’s the most difficult aspect of being a mall Santa?
King: Last year. I had a little girl on my lap, and everything was fine, and after that I started walking the mall just to say “Hi” to people. Her mom came up to me in tears. Her husband was in Iraq, and he wouldn’t be back for two years. That was the roughest I ever had to deal with.
NNBW: In the years you have been a mall Santa, how have you learned to navigate the apprehension small children often feel toward you?
King: It’s kind of surprising how the kids react, and it’s really kind of cool. You’ll get these kids that don’t want to talk to you, and I can usually get them on my lap. I’ve averaged this year only about four criers, and we’ve had hundreds of kids here already. I try to point out things to get them off track, like, “Oh, those shoes are really neat — can I see them? We’ll look at them together, and then we’ll look at the camera and those are the best pictures we have.
NNBW: What strategies do you put into play to help children feel at ease for their photos with you?
King: With the boys, I give a lot of high fives and knuckles. You just get to talking to them and nine times out of 10 they’ll jump up on my lap for a picture that mom is proud of. It’s pretty easy.
NNBW: Who’s easier to get good photo opportunities, boys or girls?
King: Little girls — their inhibitions are gone. The see Santa Claus and that’s it. Boys are a little more leery.
NNBW: What experiences have you had in your life that helped you be successful as a mall Santa?
King: I’m a rocker and a country singer. I’ve played bass for rock and country bands. Being in front of lots of people really helps for this job because sometimes you might have one or two, and sometimes you might have three or four hundred people waiting for you. It prepares you to be Johnny-on-the-spot. You have to be reactive to just about anything that happens.
NNBW: How do you like to spend your time away from work?
King: I’m an archaeologist, and a rock hound. I do just about anything there is to get out in nature. I’m with my pets or digging around for bones, fossils and rocks.
NNBW: What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
King: Being with my pets or just camping. I’m talking about primitive camping: Tents and sleeping bags on the ground with a rock in the middle of your back. I like going to Frenchman’s and Dog Valley — we do a lot of walking and find a lot of stuff out there.
NNBW: What do you like most about working and living in northern Nevada?
King: I like the seasons. I’m originally from Minnesota, and we had four seasons. Moving to San Diego, we had one: Hot, even in the winter. I prefer the four seasons.
To suggest a candidate for NNBW’s weekly question and answer column, look at our editorial calendar (http://apps.nnbw.com/utils/pdfs/9683736R.pdf) and contact reporter Rob Sabo at email@example.com or call 775-850-2146.