He seems like the Santa Claus remembered as a kid.

White beard. Check.

Red suit and Santa robe. Check.

Jolly. Once the kids arrive. Check.

But Doug Kolk isn’t your average St. Nick. This is a serious Santa, a professional affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, or the IBRBS, a retired chef with a college degree in Clausology from Santa University who in the offseason practices as hard as a magician so that he’s ready to rock a 3-month run at the holidays.

For real.

“It’s like a calling,” Kolk said, ripping a hearty ho-ho-ho to indicate his zeal for purity. “It does something to you inside.”

Kolk for the Christmas season is at the Badcock Furniture & More store in Arcadia, a sort of magical place the staff has created, both for Santa and their customers. There’s even an elf on this day standing along Hickory at Badcock’s to draw interest. You must stoop closely to inspect that Jim Dudoit’s pointed ears aren’t genuine, he’s that elfin. You also appreciate the man has endured an all-day sun and blaring holiday music that can be heard blocks away. These men work hard to create something for the children whose eyes sparkle … and to attract us to Badcock’s.

Inside Badcock’s you follow a sign to the left, directing you to Santa. The place is festive, cookies and a workshop, the employees with temporary face tattoos of wreaths and candy canes. You feel like a kid in one of those giant northern department stores, or along an icy parade route awaiting the last float and Santa’s official arrival.

And there he sits on his Santa throne at Badcock’s … on a cellphone. Kolk tells you the caller was Mrs. Claus. Then reels off a deep ho-ho-ho to bring you back to the fantasy and to the true skill of his art. Chitchat with Kolk—who is 63 and also does corporate gigs and private parties to supplement Social Security checks—ends as kids filter into his orbit, the parents escorting their youngsters by the hand into his presence. And then like a Christmas miracle, Kolk transforms into Santa Claus, gently bringing the little ones inside his circle, coaxing wishlists and small talk. He handles himself exactly as you imagine a professional should, easy-going yet in control. He tells you later that a professional Santa will have both hands in plain view, which is important for parents and to calm skittish youngsters.

Once the wishlist issue is settled—Kolk won’t guarantee anything, instead makes eye contact with the adult and repeats the child’s wish—pictures are taken and the next bashful batch moves in to meet the man in red.

“I’ll see you in what, 20-some days,” he said to another small crew of departing youngters, again ripping off a sweet ho-ho-ho.

“It’s more than putting on a red suit,” Kolk said later. “You have to be entertaining. If you’re going to do something, you have to do it right.”

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