Two children visit Santa at Southcenter Square in Tukwila. Courtesy Arthur & Associates

Two children visit Santa at Southcenter Square in Tukwila. Courtesy Arthur & Associates

First Santa photography business continues to capture his magic

Arthur & Associates Holiday Photographers claims to be the first to take portraits of children with department store Santas.

A local holiday photography business is still operating in the community after 74 years of capturing the magic of Santa Claus.

Arthur & Associates Holiday Photographers, founded in 1943, claims to be the first to ever take portraits of children with the department store Santas. Arthur French, the Seattle PI photographer who established the company, was struck with the idea after seeing Santa in a Frederick & Nelson department store window.

“Frederick & Nelson was the backbone of our company from ‘43 through ‘91,” said Arthur & Associates president and owner Hillard Viydo. “As we have moved on with Arthur & Associates, we learned (customer service) from one of the pioneers in the Northwest, long before Nordstrom and long before Starbucks.”

French made a deal with Frederick & Nelson and started an annual tradition that is survived today by Viydo, who lives in Bothell and his family.

Arthur & Associates now operates out of 10 locations, including Country Village in Bothell, Bellevue Square, Redmond Town Center, The Landing in Renton, Southcenter Square in Tukwila, The Commons at Federal Way, University Village in Seattle, the Grand Ridge Plaza in Issaquah, Lake Forest Park Town Center and Everett Mall.

Location schedules for each Santa can be found at santaphotos.com.

“It matters not the complexity of the Santa set, character or the location, it’s simply this one on one (experience),” Viydo said. “Maybe it’s me and my child or maybe it’s me standing back and wow, seeing a baby smile or seeing a big group of family…it’s magic.”

Arthur & Associates may have created the Santa photography business, but now they are only a small operation among giants with hundreds of mall locations. According to Viydo, the company has always focused on quality service and providing tangible memories through their photography, which has helped them stay relevant.

“We’re still providing that peice of paper, but we email our images as well. It just keeps growing in how people want to accept it,” Viydo said. “It’s more of a file than it is a printed matte, which is sad…because a photograph that’s displayed is a reason for conversation.”

Arthur & Associates was an entirely film-based company until 2008, which gave them an advantage over the competition, who used Polaroid or digital cameras. Viydo said that they didn’t switch to digital until he believed the quality was good enough.

“Film was dinosaur talk, so we had to switch just to stay relevant,” he said. “We wanted something that was as close to film quality as could be, but to this day, unless you’re really really on the high-end of capture and fulfillment, you’re not reaching what film can do.”

The company offers Santa photos from Thanksgiving to Christmas each year and maintains a high retention rate with their community employees. Viydo said the Santas and their helpers return for 20-30 years. Many students apply for their first job in high school and return every holiday season as they come back from college.

“It’s every location we’re at, the high schoolers seem to reach out to us.” Viydo said. “For a lot of kids, it’s a great first job because it’s not comfortable, when you’re young, to interact with goofiness, with adults and emotion.”

Madison Mackenzie, a Bothell High School graduate, was hired on as a Santa helper in 2012 and now attends Eastern Washington University. She still returns each year and has been promoted to photographer and location manager.

“I continue every year because of how much I am appreciated by the owners and managers,” Mackenzie said. “I work for them, but they always make me feel like I am working with them…and I honestly just love being involved in such cherished Christmas memories.”

The holiday schedules work well for Mackenzie because of her full course load at school.

In addition, Mackenzie said that this position is tied with her favorite out of her 13 previous jobs.

“I love my coworkers; elves are all such jolly people,” she said with a laugh. “I love adding on to the magic of Santa Clause to all the younger kids, the purest smile I have ever seen is from a little girl seeing Santa for the first time…I hope kids that believe leave believing more and the one that don’t believe still get a chance to experience the magic.”

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