Santa's Cottage Celebrates 30 Years & Get's A Renovation
The Santa’s Cottage Celebrates its 30th Anniversary in Downtown Saratoga
By, Christine O’Donnell
(Photo Courtesy: David A Bigler, 2016)
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY. - They say “it takes a village to raise a child,” and in Saratoga Springs, that village includes people who make sure there’s always a little bit of magic.
That magic appears in the form of Santa’s Cottage along Broadway every December. The whimsical little green and red house with white trim and arched features seem supernatural next to the sturdy brick buildings of downtown.
This December marks 30 years for the little green house, and it’s undergoing some major, much-need repairs. So as the community awaits the latest version of Santa’s Cottage, the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association wanted to shed some light on the elves and history behind the enchantment.
Meet Michele Erceg, 72, and Robert “Bobby” Giordano, 77. They met during a Tricycle Relay Race in Vermont 45 years ago. Michele had a broken arm and was watching the race while Bobby was racing in it.
“Son of a gun, if he didn’t darn near knock me down running through the relay station to pass off the baton. And that’s how I met him,” Michele said.
“I invited her to Saratoga, and it clicked with her as much as it did with me, so she decided to buy a house in town,” Bobby said.
By 1992 they were married. Michele’s business, Best Dressed Windows in Town, was established, and they were contributing members of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association (DBA).
At the time, the DBA had a house for Santa, but it was no longer safe for kids to use. So they decided to have a Victorian Streetwalk and upgrade the cottage.
“The cottage that Santa used to use was worn out and tired. And since Bobby and I had a relationship with Santa, we had to build him something that was worthy of his presence. I said ‘I know what we can use for a model. My playhouse,’” Michele said.
(Yes, you read that right – Michele and Bobby said they have a relationship with Santa. We asked: How’s that possible?)
Bobby says it started when they were kids.
“You see, we were good little kids, and we’ve kept up with Santa Claus all these years. When I was little, I used to get a ringing in my ears and he would talk to me in my sleep,” Bobby said. “Now, we use Zoom.”
Michele as a child in New Jersey, Bob as a child in Philadelphia
Michele got the inspiration for Santa’s Cottage from the playhouse her father, a master carpenter, built for her when she was a little girl.
Michele and her dad with her playhouse
She connected with fellow members of the DBA, and they started making the magic happen.
“Ed Sakos was a member of the DBA at the time and we decided to build it together. We literally started right after Labor Day and worked out on his farm part of every day from Labor Day to Thanksgiving. That’s when it was picked up and brought downtown for the very first time. We got all the building materials donated by a lot of companies in town,” Michele said.
“We had lots of volunteers, lots of big strong men,” Michele said, pointing at one of the photos in her album of
the cottage being built.
“That’s the good thing about Saratoga,” Bob said. “People ask me ‘how big is the town?’ I say, it’s a town of maybe 30,000. Small enough where people can get involved with anything if they want to and a lot of people want to,” Bob said.
“It’s nice to have pictures to remind you, ‘hey, look at that! There I am, up on a ladder with a drill,” Michele said. “To remind us, ’hey, we really did do this,” Michele said.
After 30 years, the time has come once again for Santa’s Cottage to get some much-needed repair and maintenance. This time around, Bonacio Construction Inc volunteered to work with the DBA and restore the cottage.
“We took the original design and made it more structurally sound, and gave it a nice coat of paint,” Bonacio Construction Project Executive Dustin Wetzel said. “We also gave Santa some new wiring.”
“Bonacio Asset Manager Kate Jarosh and I have young kids. Kate’s are 2 and 6. Mine are 1, 3 and 5-years-old,” Dustin said.
“One of the reasons we jumped at the opportunity is because it will mean great memories of growing up here in Saratoga and having the kids believe in Santa Claus. We have the opportunity to meet him in this cottage that has so much history in the community,” Dustin said.
Board President of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association Deann Devitt says preserving this history of the community coming together to create magic for our children is so important.
“This cottage was built 30 years ago with the hope that children would feel the magic of Christmas by meeting Santa. And that’s exactly what’s happened. This cottage is a reminder that when a community comes together we can make almost anything happen. We are so appreciative of Bonacio for restoring this cottage, so we can continue to pass these memories down from generation to generation,” Deann said.
(Mrs. Claus & Santa in the Cottage, Photo Courtesy of David A Bigler)
Michele and Bobby say that passing on the memories and the magic was part of their passion for the project 30 years ago; and it remains today.
“When I was a kid in Philadelphia, watching Santa Claus come to town there and just getting all involved and excited; ya’ know, that’s what’s happening still to kids. You know, as kids, we are all the same. You look for fantasy. The fantasy and the joy. You look for the right things in life, and you end up behaving a little bit more too,” Bob said.
(Santa visits Bob’s town when he was a child. Bob is on the far right)
“When we are outside helping at about 9 p.m. at night, most of the parents have taken the children home, but there’s still a line to get into the cottage and talk to Santa Claus. And most of the ‘children’ standing in line to visit with Santa at this point in life have grey hair. So children of all ages still come to see Santa. Is there a cut-off age? No, there’s no cutoff age,” Michele said.
The latest version of Santa’s Cottage will make its premiere in front of Putnam Market Place off of Broadway in downtown Saratoga Springs in late November of this year.
Bob says during his last Zoom call with Santa, he learned the big man in red has plans to come to town and participate in the Victorian Streetwalk Weekend, including the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony from 6-9 p.m. in downtown Saratoga on December 1st. For more information, head to www.saratogaspringsdowntown.com