The good grotto guide

18th December 1998 at 00:00

Co-op House, Nottingham Work starts on this grotto - a fixture for the past 30 years - in March. As manager Rodney Ellis says: "We go to great lengths to create the illusion."

This Christmas the store has spent about #163;15,000 on a Wizard of Oz theme, with a bridge over a waterfall and animated characters from the story.

Entrance: Free. Children can get a small gift for #163;1.50 and have their picture taken with Father Christmas for another #163;2.50.

Queues: Up to an hour at peak times Santa's CV: "We have several who have worked for us for years," says Rodney Ellis. "One man is totally into the part - if you asked him how old he is, he would probably say 500. It does take someone quite special, because the job is demanding, physically and mentally. "


Howells of Cardiff, a House of Fraser store Manager Nick Orford says many customers remember the grotto as children and come back with their own, expecting the same, traditional version.

"If we ever attempt a non-standard variation, we get a backlash. Last year we had a corporate Santa on a gold throne and it was not terribly successful. "

This year's grotto is an ice palace, with a coach drawn by animated reindeer past polar bears, penguins and other inhabitants of the frozen North, along a cobbled path to Santa's throne.

Howells will not disclose the budget. "We don't aim to make money out of it, just to cover our costs. We have the space and see it as a key provision, " says Nick Orford.

Entrance: #163;2.50, which includes a small present. Optional photographs are #163;2.

Queues: Maximum 40 minutes.

Santa's CV: "Older, family men we have had for the past two years - tried,tested, reliable, and reasonably rotund."


Fenwicks of Newcastle upon Tyne The grotto, at one end of the toy department, is a strong tradition and ties in with the renowned Christmas window display in Northumberland Street. This year the theme is "A Christmas Carol", so Santa sits in an armchair before a fire.

Spokeswoman Jill Wilson says the store tries to make it "extra-special for school groups of children who are disadvantaged or have special needs. We give them each a present, and sometimes give them tea after they have seen Father Christmas." Fenwicks will not disclose its budget.

Entrance: Free and children get a badge.

Queues: Vary according to time and day.

Santa's CV: "Two, both older men. They're not skinny but we can pad them out if necessary."


Jenners of Edinburgh, often described as "the Harrods of the North" Reindeer peer in through the windows of a snow-covered grotto at piles of toys heaped around the fireplace. Father Christmas makes himself comfortable on a big red chair.

The cost is included in Jenners overall seasonal budget, says spokeswoman Maureen Kennedy.

Entrance: Free, and includes a badge.

Queues: Can be 30 minutes.

Santa's CV: " He is very old, round and jolly. Some children shake his hand or stroke his beard."


Debenhams, Southampton Like other flagship stores in this group, the grotto boasts a "Santa Station", an elaborate musical throne where Father Christmas sits surrounded by parcels.

"As a family store we must ensure our youngest customers can meet him, " says a spokeswoman.

Costs are included in the overall Christmas budget.

Entrance: #163;1, which includes a stocking filler.

Queues: Monitored by staff.

Santa's CV: "Professional actors, fully vetted. Generally they are round and jolly, but if the right person is thin he can be padded out."


Harrods Children here are promised a "magical journey" through Father Christmas's toy workshop, where elves design, paint and pack presents, before meeting the white-bearded chap himself. The same elves also create the grotto, claims Harrods, so the store does not have to budget for it.

Entrance: Free, with a gift for every child.

Queues: Between one and four hours.

Santa's CV: "He comes from Lapland," says the store, and "tries to spend as much time as possible with each child". His age is unknown and the store "would not dream of asking him", says a coy spokeswoman.

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