Christmas outrage: Bad economy, and Santa's been fired

OLYMPIA, Washington — Shaun Rose has been known to many as Santa for 30 years, playing the part at the Westfield Capital mall in this Washington state community and following in his father's foot steps, who'd also been a well known local Santa until his death in Febraury, 1997.

But Rose has been fired from the mall, as has his helper, and their friends say the pair were treated unfairly.

Replacing Rose: a naturally bearded Santa hired on contract, according to those close to the situation.

Some in the community are not happy about it.

Kathleen O'Brien, 58, of Olympia, a Rose family friend for many years, said she was stunned to learn that Rose would not be at the mall.

"We've done it for generation after generation," O'Brien said about visiting the mall with family members and taking pictures with Santa.

Rose, 47, followed his father, Freeman Rose, in the tradition of playing Santa when he turned 17. Together, they played Santa at events around the area until Freeman Rose's death in February 1997. Shaun Rose carried on the tradition.

"This is the wrong year to change a tradition that is important to people," O'Brien said. "With the economy the way it is, people have to have something."

The mall does not hire people to appear as Santa directly but works with Cherry Hill Photo Enterprises of New Jersey, Capital mall general manager Kevin Caulson said. Cherry Hill declined to comment at length, but in an e-mail, company representative Bonnie Fluck wrote:

"Our company policy is such that we do not release information with regard to former or present employees nor do we ever discuss reasons for termination. In addition it would be inappropriate for us to discuss future employment of any individual."

The mall Santa was not available for comment.

Shaun Rose learned that he was being let go from co-worker and Santa's helper Heather Rosleck of Lacey, who also lost her job after seven years at the mall. Rose said he has no hard feelings about Cherry Hill's decision. "It's just a shame to put something to a halt that people would look forward to," he said.

But Rosleck feels Rose took it harder than he lets on.

"It's really devastating," she said. "He was very close to his father and it was their tradition. This is how he's carrying on for his dad."

Whether the slower economy played a role in Rose's and Rosleck's dismissals is not clear. Rose would not disclose how much he was paid by Cherry Hill. Rosleck said she earned $10.75 per hour, a wage she feels was pretty good for part-time seasonal work.

It also wasn't clear whether Rose would continue to play the Easter Bunny at the mall, something he has done in the past, she said.

"It's hard to find someone to get into one of those suits," Rosleck said.

Former Capital mall general manager Jim Boyde, who worked at the mall from 1999 to 2005, also remembers Shaun.

"No memories other than positive," Boyde said. "He always seemed to get along great with the kids. I remember lots of times people saying, 'What a great Santa he is.' "

Although Rose will not be Santa at the mall this year, he still plans to play Santa at other events, such as a holiday gathering of active and retired longshoremen from the region.

First Freeman Rose, then Shaun Rose, have made regular appearances at the longshoremen's party, said Aimee Cazalet, 36, of Fife, who grew up in Tumwater. Her father and grandfather were longshoremen with the ports of Olympia and Tacoma, she said.

Cazalet sent an e-mail to The Olympian after she learned that Shaun Rose would not be at the mall.

"I can't begin to articulate my disgust for the company who made the decision not to renew his contract purely based on the fact that 'we strictly want real beards,' " she said. "It is outrageous and completely ridiculous."

Still, Cazalet said she was looking forward to seeing Rose and "definitely continue to have him at our party."