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Contra Costa Times
Swapping Candy for Smiles
By Sandy Mazza Staff Writer
The reindeer are resting up north, so Santa rides the bus every day to his booth across from a coffin seller and a display of pi atas at the Roadium Open Air Market in Torrance.
"How you doin' Santa? Wassup?" one man called out on a recent morning.
Santa - otherwise known as Charles Noussias, a 54-year-old general contractor from Carson - stocks his booth with small candy canes and price lists for photos with him on a calendar, a card, or other design. His business partner, or "elf," mans the camera.
Pictures are taken in the back of the booth, where a plastic Christmas tree and gift-wrapped boxes surround a plush chair.
On a recent day, Noussias stood in his sun-baked booth and called out to passing families.
"Quieres candy? Do you want candy? Foto con Santa Claus? Get a picture with Santa! Como estas?"
This is the first year that the 15-acre Roadium swap meet has had a resident Santa for the entire holiday season, said Director of Operations Mike Romo.
"(Noussias) said he knew this would be the place to be because there are so many families coming through here on a daily basis," Romo said. "What it really comes down to are the smiles on the children's faces when they see him."
Noussias is a jack-of-all-trades who turned to peddling his long white beard and jiggly belly when he lost his job as an airport shuttle driver eight years ago, just before Christmas.
It wasn't long before he was giving fake-bearded Santas a run for their money.
"I went to the Buena Park mall and said, `Do you need help with Santa?,"' Noussias said. "She said `yes' and gave me a costume. I was scared to death. But one of the guys quit when he saw me walk up because he had the fake beard and the pillow."
The new seasonal job provided enough money for Noussias to buy Christmas presents for his children. Otherwise, they would have gone without, he said.
"The kids that tell me there's no Santa Claus, I tell them that story," he said. "I got money and that went to my kids' Christmas."
The side job has become even more helpful in the past two years because the economic recession left him and his contracting partner, Charles Daniel, without much work.
On a recent weekday morning, most swap-meet shoppers who passed by Santa's booth took the time to wave and smile at the man in the red felt suit and black boots.
A few shoppers stopped to have their pictures taken.
Francisca Gallejas posed with Santa for the first time in her life. The 60-year-old El Salvadoran woman was visiting family in Gardena and wanted a keepsake. She will take her photo with Noussias home and hang it on her wall, she said.
Gabriel Armata also got his first picture taken with Santa at the booth. The 4-month-old boy's mother stopped for a photo after Gabriel showed an affinity for Santa. The baby smiled wide and buried his face in Noussias' beard.
"It is truly one of the best jobs I've ever done," Noussias said. "I tell my kids all the time that you have to live inside your heart. Santa lives right here in your heart."