The holiday season is not complete without a bit of shopping. A special locket, jacket or warm and cozy slippers make that hot tea, cocoa or spiced apple cider by the fire one of the best moments in life. While the best things in life are free, a bit of sparkle adds to the cheer and festivities. In the end, only memories are left over, until the next year begins.
Let us take a peek at Christmas traditions and those that create them.
Happy Christmas, New Year and tidings of great joy.
We will start here, as they had an entire Christmas room called Santaland !
Miller & Rhoads – Where Christmas is a Legend”
Miller & Rhoads was a Virginia-based department store chain. Throughout its 105 year life-span, the store played an active role in the Richmond community, along with its friendly cross-street rival Thalhimers.
In 1885, Linton Miller, Webster Rhoads, and Simon Gerhart opened a dry goods store in Richmond, Virginia. The store—Miller, Rhoads, & Gerhart—opened with an initial investment of $3,000. In 1888, Miller, Rhoads, & Gerhart moved to 509 E. Broad Street.
Simon Gerhart relocated to Lynchburg, Virginia in 1890 and opened his own store there. It was at this time that the nameplate of the Richmond store changed to Miller & Rhoads. By 1909, the Richmond Broad Street store covered nearly half a city block, and by 1924, it covered an entire block, stretching from Broad to Grace Street.
During the middle part of the 20th century, the growth of Miller & Rhoads in Richmond was at its peak. The store was home to the ever-popular Tea Room, which featured regular fashion shows, and signature menu items such as the Missouri Club, Brunswick stew, and chocolate silk pie.
As time progressed, Miller & Rhoads began to boast modern conveniences like a 1,000 car parking garage (shared with Thalhimers), air conditioning and escalators. The store also hosted famous writers, art exhibits and other community events that helped add a cosmopolitan flair to the city.
Santaland and the “real” Santa Claus
Every Christmas season, a room on the 7th floor of Miller & Rhoads transformed into a magic wonderland called Santaland. The room was dimly lit, but thousands of tiny, white lights gave the appearance of night stars overhead. Woodland scenes with lifelike, animated animals were strategically placed throughout the room. Fully decorated trees adorned a path leading to the beautiful stage. Onstage were a huge fireplace, a Christmas tree, and a golden chair with a red velvet back and seat where Santa Claus sat.
Santaland became so much a part of the Richmond store’s folklore that the company began doing commercials with the tagline “Miller & Rhoads – Where Christmas is a Legend”
Even now, years after Miller & Rhoads closed its doors, Santa Claus still holds court in downtown Richmond, first shifting to Thalhimers in 1990, then to the Sixth Street Marketplace (more below) after Thalhimers closed, and currently sees children at the Children’s Museum of Richmond each holiday season.
The real magic of the Miller & Rhoads’ Santas was that they knew every child’s name – greeting them by name as they walked up to him – a tradition that lives on today. Stories exist of parents who’ve driven their children to Richmond from as far away as Texas – or grandparents who’ve flown their grandchilden from Colorado just to see THE Santa.
William Rhodes Davis and his son: