Drive-thru and Dash: Santa visits Winston-Salem
Across the country and around the world, Santa Claus has been recognized as an essential worker. The Winston-Salem Dash are assisting him with his essential work. On Saturday the Dash will host their final installment of "Drive-Thru Santa," a holiday endeavor devised for these pandemic-affected times. Though the name may
Across the country and around the world, Santa Claus has been recognized as an essential worker. The Winston-Salem Dash are assisting him with his essential work.
On Saturday the Dash will host their final installment of "Drive-Thru Santa," a holiday endeavor devised for these pandemic-affected times. Though the name may bring to mind images of talking to Santa through an intercom while reading a list of gift options off a menu board, Drive-Thru Santa actually takes place at the Dash's home of Truist Field. Mr. Claus, relentlessly jolly as ever, is stationed on a throne-like chair in the team's spacious VIP entrance lobby. The lobby has been decked out with holiday decorations, snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, gift-wrapped pictures hanging on the wall and a Christmas tree decorated to look like team mascot Bolt. The real Bolt is on hand as well, often found manning the lobby's "Letters to Santa" mailbox.
Jessica Aveyard, director of ballpark experience and branding for the Dash, has helped oversee planning and implementation of the Drive-Thru Santa project.
"The lobby's maybe 700 square feet -- just a big square with a huge desk. It’s empty 99 percent of the time. So let's make it a Winter Wonderland!" she said. "That’s what we ended up doing. For me, it was like, 'Can I just work in here for the rest of the month?' It's great. We can bring cars in from the main road -- Broad Street, our busiest road, the main entrance to the ballpark. They drive through our parking lot and get to our doors. Before they can hop out of their car, someone comes up, dressed in elf garb, and tells them to stay in the car. They confirm the reservation made through our online platform and then enter into Santa’s paradise."
The Dash have long been involved in holiday events in the community and at the ballpark. In the midst of a pandemic, it was an open question of whether such traditions could continue. The team, a White Sox affiliate since 1997, worked with sponsoring partner Salem One (a local printing company) to make Drive-Thru Santa a reality.
"We’ve typically done brunch with Santa," Aveyard said. "We do it for two Sundays, normally, with three sittings on each Sunday. People come in and eat brunch, meet Santa, get their pictures taken with him and Bolt. So for us, it felt odd not doing something with Santa. We’ve held this event for years. We wanted to still be able to offer something but be creative with it."
Drive-Thru Santa was partly inspired by the contactless "Character Cruise-Thrus" staged by teams like the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Visiting Santa is now a lap-free experience, as a sheet of plexiglass separates him from his youthful visitors.
"We wanted to provide our own experience while staying safe and following all the CDC guidelines," Aveyard said. "Our staff is wearing masks, our entrance door is open all the time, we’re in our own parking lot, there isn't anything around us. It’s an inviting space. It’s great to be able to keep our fans secure. Their kids need to feel some kind of normalcy. You keep your mask on and talk to Santa through a plexiglass barrier, but you’re still sitting next to him. And the parents are loving it. We [team employees] snap a family photo on our personal devices, which we email them afterward. So they can get the full family photo while taking as many pictures as they like of their kids."
Thank you to everyone who came out to our first day of Drive-Thru Santa! We can’t wait to do it again next weekend. 🎅🏼 pic.twitter.com/IzVVD6QQGJ— Winston-Salem Dash (@WSDashBaseball) December 7, 2020
More than 200 families have made Drive-Thru Santa reservations, which cost $20 and include two drink vouchers (think hot cocoa and coffee) as well as two ticket vouchers for a 2021 Dash game. The event has taken place each of the past six weekend afternoons. A seventh and final installment is scheduled for Saturday.
"We take eight cars for every 30-minute time slot. It takes just three to four minutes to interact," Aveyard said. "We've got it down to a science. And our Santa is the best Santa. Of course, he's the only one."
From his Truist Field lobby location, Santa has been fielding constant requests for hoverboards, Heelys and, of course, PS5s. It's been a great experience for the kids and, perhaps just as importantly, their parents.
"We keep hearing, 'Thank you so much for doing this,’" Aveyard said. "That wasn’t the goal. For us, we wanted these kids to have something that feels normal within all this craziness. We hope they’re as excited as their parents have been. We're pushing it hard to get these families out here and offer a safe environment. That's all we're trying to do."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.