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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009 8 years ago

Santa's secret helper

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

How does a native Floridian become the go-to source for winter wonderlands?

In the case of Roselle Stroz, it’s by working 28 days straight during the holidays, tastefully decorating Santa sets inside area malls from Sarasota to Tampa.

Stroz is a freelance visual merchandiser who got her start dressing up the storefronts and mannequins at American Eagle and Armani stores. A Largo native, Stroz, 37, owns Floresca Designs, a retail design company responsible for window displays inside mall department stores.

Like a crafty unsung elf with discerning tinsel tastes and a flair for fluffing fake snow, Stroz is also responsible for the Santa sets inside Westfield’s Sarasota Square and Southgate malls, in addition to Tampa’s Westshore Plaza and Citrus Park Town Center.

“I work as fast as I can so the kids don’t see me,” Stroz says. “They always come up to the set expecting to see Santa. I love seeing their eyes light up, but I don’t want to give anything away.”

Although Stroz doesn’t design or build the set structures, she lays every bit of faux snow; strings every ribbon and light; hangs every ornament and pine wreath. She crafts swags and prop snowmen and arranges empty boxes wrapped in gold paper. She climbs ladders and crawls on her knees. She comes home at night covered in glitter, bits of velvet ribbon and cotton batting.

“She is Santa’s elf you never see,” says Todd Beckwith, Westfield’s marketing director.

A former fashion-design major, Stroz has been designing and decorating Santa sets for five years. She begins her season by sketching designs the day after Halloween and, in November, submits them to Westfield’s marketing and advertising department.

Like any set designer, she must stick to a budget. Every overhead design must be approved and every ornament and ribbon agreed upon. Stroz needs adequate time to order materials and touch up paint on aging props, as was the case this year at the Citrus Park Mall, where the Santa set includes 20, 4-foot-tall Christmas mice as old as the 10-year-old mall.

She says this year’s Santa house at the Sarasota Square Mall was her favorite assignment. Nearly double the size of Southgate’s snowy window backdrop, the Sarasota Square set, designed to look like Santa’s North Pole home, took 12 hours to decorate and required 240 yards of batting.

“My knees aren’t as good as they used to be,” says Stroz, who admits she was so tired from decorating Santa sets this season she turned her own Christmas tree over to her her 2-year-old and 5-year-old daughters. “It’s missing a tree-topper and only has ornaments from my waist down.”


1. Save the Christmas inflatables for parade floats.
“I personally don’t like the inflatable Santas. They’re unimaginative. They require no creativity.”

2. Leave no branch undecorated.
“Fill your tree with ornaments. They don’t have to match, just fill the empty spaces. A weakly decorated tree will not look finished.”

3. It takes a village to raise a miniature display.
“The little Christmas villages people put up in their homes are fine if there’s a cluster of houses. One or two won’t make an impact. Have as much out as you can.”

4. Dancing Santas have no rhythm.
“Santas that dance and make noise are horrible.”

5. Bows are cheap and dress up everything.
“You can pick up a bow-maker at any craft store. It’s just two wooden slats that fold ribbon a certain way. I use bows to decorate trees and packages, anything really. You can use it year-round on birthday presents.”

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