by: David F. Ashton Even very little kids feel comfortable with Santa, because of the quiet, comfortable environment in which he appears at Eastport Plaza, at Holgate Boulevard and S.E. 82nd Avenue of Roses.

From across the country come stories about cheesy 'corporate' Santa Claus characters, with stringy fake beards, being recruited to play jolly St. Nick. Other accounts tell of family members being rebuked when they try to snap a picture of their little one on Santa's lap - instead of buying an overpriced 'photo package'.

But things are different at Eastport Plaza, one of the nation's longest-operating shopping centers. 'We think Christmas should be about giving,' says Manager Dianne Gill. 'That's why we established 'Santa's Place' here.'

It's a good place to bring very young children for their first visit, Gill observes, because Santa's Throne Room is delightfully decorated, yet quiet, and kept away from the Holiday hustle and bustle. The room features Santa's Throne, crafted in 1960 and beautifully refinished. 'Some people come by and say they sat there on Santa's lap, and are now delighted that their children, or grandchildren, are able enjoy the very same experience.'

And, instead of having a commercial photographer there to sell pictures, Gill adds, 'We encourage families to bring their cameras or use their cell phones to take their own pictures - for free.'

Additionally, Santa's place offers a 'toy testing room', a movie room, and lots of free popcorn.

'While we're thrilled to be able to give a free visit with Santa to our community,' Gill says, 'We hope our guests will give to people in need by bringing new, unwrapped toys, new coats or new blankets, boxed or canned food, or cash donations for the five charities represented at Santa's Place.'

Guests can choose to contribute to:

• Salvation Army Angel Tree

• Sunshine Division Food Barrel

• Trillium Family Services

• Toys for Tots

• Toy-N-Joy

'The best part for me,' Gill concludes, 'is seeing the fun that adults have when they visit, and the wonder and amazement in the little ones' eyes.'

Santa's Place at Eastport Plaza

4000 S.E. 82nd Avenue

Open through December 24

Open days from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; evenings from 4 pm until 8 pm

Closed Sundays

Kids must be accompanied by a parent or guardian

Information: Call 503/771-3817, or visit


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