PRESCOTT - Santa Claus, on duty for 40 days straight at the Prescott Gateway Mall, is avoiding a long commute to the North Pole by staying down slope at the Hampton Inn hotel.
The trip to the mall takes five to 10 minutes on a sleigh, Santa said.
"Go over the hill and you are there," Santa said during a couch-
side interview Saturday morning while other hotel guests were eating breakfast at the 76-room hotel.
Santa and Mrs. Claus are staying at the hotel courtesy of the mall, said Betty Naumann, sales director for the Hampton and Holiday Inn Express hotels off Ranch Drive.
Santa is on duty exclusively at the mall through Christmas Eve. He asks children want they want for Christmas, gives them a coloring book and a letter to mail to Santa, and poses for photos that parent may purchase.
Santa, born Peter Kreps, said he began donning a red suit in 2012. He retired in 2003 from owning a restaurant supply business in Chandler, where he lives with Mrs. Claus, Judy, his wife of 53 years.
Becoming a Santa appealed to him because he likes children. He has four children and four grandchildren of his own.
Santa said he searched a website that advised him about opportunities, and coached him on "where you place your hands" and other etiquette tips.
Santa worked in 2012 during the Arizona Balloon Classic in Gilbert. He said WorldWide Photography set him up with gigs at shopping malls. He sets up shop outside JCPenney at Prescott Gateway Mall.
Children make interesting and sometimes humorous requests when Santa asks them what they want for Christmas, he said.
One girl asked for a pony, he said.
"I say, 'I'll have to talk to your parents, because Santa does not give live pets,'" he said.
One girl who showed up with her three brothers said she wanted a doll for her sister, Santa recalled. When Santa noticed her sister was not in sight, the girl pointed to her pregnant mother.
Santa said a 9-year-old girl asked him, "Are you the real Santa?"
When she pulled his hair and beard and found they were real, her eyes lit up and she said, "You are the real Santa."
Santa said he rarely says "Ho ho ho" in a deep voice because it scares children.
He welcomed some children who approached him Saturday morning in the hotel lobby.
"I love his mustache," Holly Buck, 10, of Lake Forest, Calif., said as she ate breakfast with her parents and brother. "I like his hat, too."
Santa's hours at the mall are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. "We are going to leave early enough to get back to the North Pole," Santa said.
Follow reporter Ken Hedler on Twitter @KenHedlines.