SIDNEY — Area residents may find themselves in a traffic jam if they’re trying to drive along Broadway Avenue near Russell Road in the early evenings this week.
That’s because Santa Claus is expected to draw large crowds of children and their parents, who stop to visit him in the garden of a private residence near that intersection.
The garden, at 1610 Broadway Ave., is owned by Joel Phillips. Phillips told the Sidney Daily News that about four years ago, Santa asked if he could visit the garden in the evenings before Christmas each year to talk with local children. Phillips agreed.
“What’s not to agree? I have nothing against Santa,” said Phillips. “The garden’s there for people to enjoy and I like that people like it.”
In the winter, flowers give way to hundreds of tiny white lights, including some that outline Santa and his reindeer flying overhead. It takes three people to hang them all.
“A lot of people thank me for (the decorations). I apologize for not changing it, but they say, ‘Oh no. We like it that way,’” Phillips said.
When he purchased the house 23 years ago, there was no garden. It was a tennis court. A really bad rainstorm tore up part of the court soon after the Phillipses moved in.
“It was going to cost $23,000 to replace it,” Phillips said. “I don’t do tennis. So I tore it up and put in a garden.”
The human Santa doesn’t sit right in the garden, however.
“I sit on a bench and face the street,” he said. In the first holiday season that he was at the garden, he waved at cars going by and talked to the children who stopped to see him. But word of his visits has spread during the intervening years and now, traffic is very busy there.
“I try to be nice to the neighbors,” Santa said. He realizes that because of him, they have to put up with honking cars and lots of people trooping through the area.
He saw 200 children on a recent Saturday night. Every one of them received a candy cane.
“The Dorothy Love (Retirement Community) bus came by. I’ve got on the bus with the old folks,” the white-bearded gent said.
Weather permitting, Santa will be at the garden tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. If it’s rainy, snowy, icy or muddy, he isn’t there.
Since he began his appearances in Sidney, he has taken some funny requests.
“I had a little girl (recently) — what she wanted for Christmas was biscuits and gravy,” he laughed. He also has heard stories from children that have made him sad.
“One didn’t have a mom. Another one, both parents were in jail,” Santa said. Last year, a boy arrived with his cousins.
“‘Don’t say anything about his dad,’ an adult with them told me. ‘He died this morning from a heart attack,’” Santa recounted. Some visits are joyous.
“We had a visitor from Italy. She’d never seen snow and never had sat on Santa’s lap. They both happened at the same time,” he said.
The jolly elf said he is surprised by the number of people who show up.
“It’s a really a neat thing that it’s taken off so much,” he said. Families have identified themselves as from Dayton, Centerville, Troy, Piqua and Greenville, as well as from throughout Shelby County.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824. Follow her on Twitter @PASpeelmanSDN.