Jack Nuss, 9, eyed the two reindeer Saturday as he pondered whether they were, in fact, Santa’s reindeer.
“They’re cool,” he said. “They look like normal reindeer kind of, but I think they’re real.”
He contemplated how they fly for a minute before drawing a conclusion: “I think it’s just a little bit of Christmas spirit,” he said.
It’s a busy time of year at Stanek’s Nursery, which was packed with families who came to check out the reindeer, get pictures with Santa Claus, and shop for gifts, poinsettias, Christmas trees and trimmings.
The Nusses were happily surprised to discover the reindeer at Stanek’s Nursery when they stopped in to shop for Christmas decorations there for the last time. Owner Tim Stanek recently announced the family business would be closing after 99 years.
“We just came because we heard they were going out of business,” said Jack’s mom, Katie Nuss. “It’s one of our favorite stores.”
Many loyal customers get their tree at the South Hill nursery year after year, and the nursery has provided trees to The Davenport Hotel for 10 to 15 years.
“There’s a history with the people who are here and the customers,” said longtime employee David Trail. “There’s a long-term relationship.”
Michael Loundagin, an employee for nine years, said the nursery has featured Santa and his reindeer for four years.
“It’s a big draw, I think as much with the adults as with the kids,” he said. “A lot of people have never seen a real reindeer before. It’s been busier than we anticipated, which is a good thing.”
Children eagerly waited in a long line for their turn to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want for Christmas.
“He’s the real one, of course,” Loundagin said of Santa. “No imitations here.”
Many customers were disappointed it would be the last year to see the reindeer.
“To see everyone coming in and the excitement and the service over the years, it’s just sad to see a small, local operation close,” Michele Oty said.
Oty snapped pictures of her kids with the reindeer Saturday. She came for “the kids to see the reality of what they dream,” she said.
In a letter to customers regarding the closure, Stanek cited a “lease conflict” with Spokane’s Parks and Recreation Department regarding a section of property east of the business that is used as its main parking area. The last day of business is expected to be Jan. 15.
Employees also were saddened by the news.
“It’s just a huge void that’s going to be created,” Loundagin said. “This is where I had my epiphany. This is where I discovered my love for plants.”
Margie Taylor, 86, has worked at Stanek’s for 44 years. She handed out bags of buttery, fresh-popped popcorn to children Saturday.
Asked why she stuck around so long, she replied, “I liked what I was doing.”
“They tell me I should retire,” she said. “Who knows what I’ll do?”