COLUMBIA — Cutting between rows of chrome tailpipes and leather jackets, Ryland Huffman screamed, “Santa’s here!” as he jumped into the open arms of Santa Claus at Mid America Harley-Davidson.
Every Saturday in December, Jay Morgan Sr. has fulfilled the role of Santa to bring in happy children and new customers to a most unorthodox North Pole.
“I think this is the perfect Santa,” Morgan said. “A lot of people are scared of so-called ‘bikers,’ but with me here, they can see that it’s a relaxing atmosphere.”
With a real beard and jolly personality, Morgan sat down for breakfast and photographs with children and their parents.
Jessica Howell, Ryland’s mother, said she usually takes him to the mall every year to visit Santa, but she brought him to the store three times in the last month for its unique atmosphere.
Ryland, meanwhile, quietly whispered his Christmas list into Morgan’s ear followed by a simple, “I love you, Santa.”
Steve Tuchschmidt, owner of the Harley-Davidson shop, said Santa’s presence has boosted the numbers of customers visiting his business.
“It has brought in a lot of people that would never come out to our dealership,” Tuchschmidt said. “They are not Harley riders or Harley enthusiasts, but they came out to see Santa Claus, and it exposes them to all of the unique things we have to offer here.”
After failed attempts in the past couple years to lure customers to his shop, Tuchschmidt stepped up his advertising efforts this year on radio and television to generate a larger turnout.
Instead of cookies and milk, Tuchschmidt said he agreed to pay Morgan with VIP vouchers so Santa can outfit his own bike with some chrome. Morgan said when he isn’t driving his sleigh, he rides his own Harley and frequently visits the shop for its parts and family atmosphere.
Some visitors were pleasantly surprised when they entered the store Saturday. Harley enthusiast Lori Kemp was simply squeezing in some last-minute shopping before Christmas.
“We’re here for the motorcycles,” Kemp said. “We didn’t even know Santa was here, but we got lucky, I guess.”
In the past month, Tuchschmidt sold three motorcycles as surprise Christmas presents and is excited to see so many shoppers. “I don’t know if Santa has much to do with holiday sales,” he said. “But it’s a pretty magical time of the year.”