Staff shortage closes Santa’s Workshop early

Chris Moose welcomes visitors to the North Pole at Santa’s Workshop in 2017. Press-Republican photo courtesy of Diane Chase

WILMINGTON — Turns out staffing shortages extend all the way to the North Pole. Santa’s Workshop is looking for elves.

“I don’t think it’s any different than anybody else,” General Manager Matt Stanley said. “We’re all struggling the same.”

Santa’s Workshop is an amusement park located in the North Pole, a hamlet of Wilmington, that embraces the most wonderful time of the year.

Guests are at once transported to North Pole Village, home of “the man with the bag” and all of his helpers.

“The entire village is a stage,” Stanley said. “They see North Pole Village and they visit the shops of the candy maker, the hat maker and the toy maker who are all making gifts for Christmas. Santa Claus even comes out during the day to give orders of what they need to be doing for Christmas.

“It’s a fantasy village where people can actually come and be a part of the fantasy.”

The park has a train, reindeer barn and its famous onsite U.S. Post Office, at which many drop off holiday cards and letters to Santa to have them stamped at the “North Pole.”

Santa’s Workshop dates back to 1949, predating many much larger parks, like Disneyland.

“We are one of the oldest operating theme parks,” Stanley said. “Disney actually sent executives to see what Santa’s Workshop was all about.”

The park is a seasonal business that, in a normal year, operates daily from late June through Labor Day and then on the weekends through Columbus Day. It later reopens for the weekends of its busiest time of year: the final winter weeks leading up to Christmas Day.

North Pole Village was shuttered at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting restrictions, though, leading to some unconventional hours of operations as of late.

After closing amusement parks in March 2020, the state did not OK them for a full reopening until earlier this year and, even once reopened, Stanley said times were tough at Santa’s Workshop.

“We had to lower our admission because we didn’t have a full show schedule,” he said. “We gave a very sizeable discount for purchasing tickets online this year. We essentially gave a quarter off. They are normally $39.95. We gave $10 off if people bought tickets online.”

The general manager called it an impact of staffing shortages.

Though normally employing closer to 60 of Santa’s Helpers each season, North Pole Village had a max of 35 this summer, a number that has since shrunk as several teens headed back to college.

“That’s just where staffing was,” Stanley said. “I normally have 15 to 18 kids on my entertainment staff. This year I was able to get five to show up and audition.

“To be perfectly candid, I am old now and I am the general manager — I was singing and dancing in a couple of shows so that we could actually have them. We were all doing jobs outside of our comfort zone just to make sure that things were happening.”

Stanley said Santa’s Workshop is hiring elves to fill part-time positions across the park, from office staff to maintenance staff to entertainment crew.

Stanley started working for Santa in the 1990s.

“In my teen years,” he said.

Though he left the north country to pursue a computer engineering career, he later found his way back at the North Pole working, what he called part/full-time, at Santa’s Workshop.

“It is very hard work,” he said. “The thing that keeps you coming back is walking into the village and seeing the amazement of the children as they see all of the stories that they’ve heard come to life. Like Santa and seeing that he is real and seeing that the frozen North Pole is actually a block of ice and seeing the reindeer.

“The amazement that we see in their eyes is what really drives us to continue doing what we’re doing. I would not rather wake up and go to work anywhere else than at Santa’s Workshop.”

Santa’s Workshop had its last day of full operation a week early due to the continued staffing challenges.

“The Post Office Gift Shop will remain open daily through Columbus Day,” Stanley said. “We are going to keep our restaurant open for breakfast with Santa and lunch on weekends through Columbus Day.”

Park staff is making a list and checking it twice to get ready for its winter season, the weekends between Nov. 13 and Dec. 30.

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