Drive-thru Santa visits ready to go in Milford

MILFORD — Downtown Milford Inc. has a creative solution to hosting Santa Claus in the COVID-19 era.

“We have a Mr. Claus that has requested the use of the city of Milford’s drive-thru at the customer service (building),” said City Manager Mark Whitfield during last week’s City Council meeting.

The council went on to unanimously approve legislation that will allow Santa, who will be played by Causey Mansion owner Joey Phillips, to use the drive-thru on Friday evenings during the day on Saturdays and Sundays afternoons through Dec. 20.

Mr. Claus’ hours are 5-8 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Those interested in bringing their kids to the event can line up in their vehicles at either the corner of Southeast Second Street and Pearl Alley or the corner of Southeast Front Street and Pearl Alley.

“I think the kids would be happy that we do this,” Mayor Archie Campbell said. “The kids have been locked up for so many months, I really think this is something that would be good for them and their families.”

Nina Pletcher, who is in charge of DMI’s Promotion Committee and coordinating Santa’s visits, agreed.

“It’s a pretty ingenious idea,” she said. “I’m going to give that credit to Jan (Broulik) from Causey Mansion,” Mr. Phillips’ husband.

“He said, ‘Why don’t we use the drive-thru?’ when we realized we weren’t going to be able to do face-to-face, and he and Joey have really stepped up and made this happen,” Ms. Pletcher said.

From the inside of the customer service building, Mr. Phillips will be able see children and their families through a camera.

“The children will be able to see Santa. He will be able to talk to them, and it’s going to be a back-and-forth dialogue, just as it would be if they were sitting on his lap,” Ms. Pletcher said.

She said this is better than approaches she has seen in other towns, which have “put Plexiglas glass up in front of Santa, or they put Santa in a bubble.”

Traditionally, DMI has hosted Mr. Claus at the Santa House, a tiny, ornate red building on South Walnut Street, off the Riverwalk.

“The house will be decorated by Saturday for people to look into the windows,” Ms. Pletcher said. “It looks just like it did last year, except Santa won’t be in there.”

Santa’s first visit was initially supposed to happen Saturday, but DMI ended up postponing the event.

“Due to unforeseen circumstances, Santa is delayed at the North Pole,” according to a post on DMI’s Facebook page.

“The Santa House will not open until Friday, December 4 at 5 p.m. when Santa will greet children at the City of Milford Customer Service Building (119 S. Walnut St.),” it said. “We apologize for any inconvenience and remind all children that Santa is always watching and listening.”

Last week, council members did have some questions about the specifics of the arrangement.

“When they’re in the drive-thru, will a city staff person have to be in there with them?” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson asked.

Mr. Whitfield said there didn’t have to be any supervision.

“Most everything is locked up and put away at nighttime,” he said.

“There will be a passkey given to Santa, and no one else will have access to the building,” Ms. Pletcher said.

Councilman Todd Culotta was worried about traffic.

“I know there’s going to be elves helping with the traffic going in there, but coming out of that driveway, there’s two lights right there,” he said. “Can we get any police assistance for when it’s busy to make sure it’s not too dangerous right there?”

Ms. Pletcher said DMI had thought about this.

“I’ve also spoken to the chief about having a police presence there, especially during the evening hours on Friday when it’s dark,” she said. “They’ve accommodated us in the past very well, as far as when we were downtown at the Santa House.”

Santa’s second visit to Milford, on Fridayfrom 5-8 p.m., will be accompanied by DMI’s inaugural Christmas Market, which will take place in the farmers market space by the library’s portico. The event was created as a replacement for Milford’s traditional Holiday Stroll, which had to be canceled due to the pandemic.

Ms. Pletcher said that 16 artisan vendors have already signed up for the event.

She’s looking forward to hosting Santa in her role as head elf, but Ms. Pletcher also needs more volunteers to help direct traffic.

“We need 144 volunteers, and right now, we only have about 40,” she said. “I’m beating the bushes for volunteers.”

Those interested in donating their time can sign up at bit.ly/3q4nXY7.

Slots are available starting Friday through the rest of the holiday season. Volunteers must be 18 years or older.

“It’s rain or shine,” Ms. Pletcher said. “You dress for the weather, and you will be outside the whole time.”