This is the last of four weekends to tell Santa your wish list and share holiday festivities at Danto Furniture in Southwest Detroit. Thanks to generous volunteers, kids will get popcorn, lemonade, candy and toys from a jolly good fellow who speaks both Spanish and English.
“So many children come, it warms my heart,” says Jesse Gonzales, a Southwest Detroit resident who has played Santa since he was 23-years-old. “One little girl told me I didn’t have to give her a toy but give one to her sister because it would mean everything to her.”
The three-story furniture store, a fixture on Vernor Avenue, opens from noon to 5 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday (December 19-20) with a special treat from co-owner Irwin Danto. He has arranged a green screen behind Santa and will add animation characters from a computer program so kids can include themselves, the jolly old fellow and cartoon favorites from Bugs Bunny to Elsa from Frozen and the Minions.
Families can have a free picture texted to their phone or get a printed picture from $1 to $3 depending on size. They can munch on salsa and chips while waiting for high-resolution copies of their loved ones. Some come with kids, some dogs, even an 80-year-old lady asked for a picture with Santa.
The store, which opened in the 1940s, sells furniture, appliances, computers and electronics in thriving Mexican Town. The company has a warehouse in Southwest Detroit and a kiosk in Laurel Place in Livonia. Gonzales, who retired from Ford Motor Co., has played Santa for the past three years at the store, clapping with dancing children, encouraging the shy ones and listening to the dreams of kids of all ages, colors and religions. “I’m happiest when I have toys to give them,” he said.
With the help of the Southwest Detroit Improvement Association, the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol, the U.S. Navy, the Detroit Police Safety Foundation and the City of Detroit Engine #33, toys a plenty will be available to kids.
“We used to have our Christmas party in Patton Park but we lost our Christmas tree. Mr. Danto said to bring our party to his store because it is as much our store as his. We’ve worked beautifully together,” Gonzales said.
The man in the plush red suit won’t stop with the Santa celebration at the Danto Furniture store. On Christmas Day he will come to St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church at 8:30 a.m. with a group of volunteers and pass out toys and gifts to 350 families in the neighborhood. Jimmy’s Kids, an organization launched by Jim Tuman, the Red Cross, Latin Council for Latin American Events, and other organizations assemble gifts. Generous elves will pass out the gifts with good tidings for all.
What: Christmas with Santa and Mrs. Claus
Where: Danto Furniture, 7701 W. Vernor Avenue, Detroit
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Extras: Popcorn, salsa and chips, candy and photos with Santa you can purchase for $1 to $3.