By Rosemary Horvath
What’s better than one jolly Santa Claus? Answer is a roomful of jolly red-suited, white-bearded Santas joined by a bevy of Mrs. Santas, elves, and helpers.
Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm, south of Clare, invites families to join costumed members of the Michigan Association of Professional Santas visiting Saturday to celebrate opening of the new reindeer barn.
“They are coming to have photos taken with the reindeer they will use for their own promotions,” said co-owner and trainer Dave Aldrich.
And there are plenty of computer-generated photo ops for families, too, to use for holiday greeting cards.
Fly over the city of Clare or the North Pole in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Cost is $19.95 for a 5 by 7 print. Your image can be used for imprinting on products of your choice.
Regular holiday season hours at Rooftop Landing are Saturdays 10 to 8 p.m. and Sundays 11 to 7 p.m. through Dec. 28-29.
Location is 2706 E. Stevenson Lake Road. Check the website www.rooftopreindeer.com for additional information.
Main attraction, even when Santa and helpers are around, is always the herd of 15 reindeer, including Noel, the one reindeer star of film and commercial.
Noel and fellow reindeer will be at holiday events in Farwell for the Nov. 23 parade and park festivities, at Clare’s Christmas Celebration Dec. 7 and at the Mount Pleasant 20th annual Dickens Christmas Dec. 7.
In fact, Rooftop Landing reindeer will be at 11 events around Michigan on Dec. 7. Aldrich has lined up 97 holiday events already this season, he said, and he’s shooting for 100 or more.
Although Rooftop Landing has been a working reindeer farm since 1991, and has displayed reindeer at seasonal events throughout Michigan, Dave and son Dan opened the barn building two weeks ago.
“Everyone always asked if they can come to the farm and we’d have to tell them no. So, now they can come,” Dave said.
The Rooftop Landing reindeer barn features a gift shop, several pens to display the reindeer, and settings areas for computer-generated photography.
“We have doughnuts and fresh coffee from Cops & Doughnuts,” Dave noted. “They make three doughnuts exclusively for us: Eggnog, Gingerbread and Red Velvet.”
A track for a model Polar Express train circles the entire circumference of the room. Christmas music plays the entire time.
There’s even a mailbox to drop letters to Santa using holiday stationary.
The Aldriches have thought out all the details.
Dan figures he’s been to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando every year of his life. Now that he and his wife have a 5 year-old son, he sees holiday festivities through his eyes.
Dan founded Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm 18 years ago at the Isabella County location, home to his other business, Sod-Busters Lawn & Landscape LLC that does commercial work around the state and residential work in Clare area.
Dave originally raised reindeer in the Lansing area until he joined his son.
“All I do is raise reindeer,” said the 64 year old. “It started as a hobby for fun and developed into a business pretty quickly. I used to raise exotic deer as a hobby.”
Aside from the holiday-related attractions, Rooftop Landing has an area to learn about the species of deer native to the Arctic Circle.
“People think reindeer are only in storybooks. Santa doesn’t exist, so reindeer must not exist. They think true reindeer are some kind of elk.”
Reindeer have been domesticated and used as work animals in Arctic Region for 5,000 years. “They are considered a true, all-purpose animal for meat, hides and milk,” Dave added.
Reindeer were used to deliver mail until they were replaced with snowmobiles. Russians used them to haul ammunition during WW2.
Dave said there is “no one in the country that does as many events” as Rooftop Landing. Both Dave and Dan train the animals to walk through places like malls, be around dogs, screaming kids and sirens. They have an army of family and friends work with them during the seven-week holiday season.
Rooftop Landing has taken reindeer to the Detroit Opera House, Meijer Gardens and Sculptor Gardens in Grand Rapids, Dow Gardens in Midland and Greenfield Village in Dearborn for the Twelve Days of Christmas.
“It still is a lot of fun,” said Dave. “Little kids are afraid of Santa sometimes, but no one is afraid of a reindeer.”