PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As many people are starting to deck the halls, Chris Willis will soon be decking out a vacant Portland business with his more than 400 Santa Claus figurines.
That’s right. It’s time for the so-called Santa Clones to make their holiday appearance.
Every year Willis, the keeper of the clones, finds an empty storefront or business to fill with his 13-inch, blow-mold plastic Santa figurines. Then, after releasing a few clues about the location, he invites people to find them.
“People love figuring it out and going to find it. It makes my tradition others’ tradition, and I think that’s really cool,” Willis said.
The tradition began in 2011 when he thought it would be fun to see how many of the Empire Plastic Santas he could collect. That first year, he rounded up almost 200 of them and put them in an empty storefront on East Burnside Street.
Willis, who in his full-time job works as a designer for Nike, was inspired to create an installation that resembled the Terracotta Warriors or Andy Warhol pop art – something with a lot of repetition.
His installation was well received and word of it spread. So, he decided to do it again.
Since 2011, there have only been a couple of years when Willis couldn’t secure a location to set up his Santa Clones. This year, he feels lucky because a local real estate company reached out to him and invited him to choose one of its available spaces as his 2022 site for the clones.
Willis is thrilled with the space he chose.
“The entire back wall is floor-to-ceiling mirrors. So it instantly turns 400 Santas into 800 Santas,” he said.
The space, he said, was really chosen for the people that like to look for the display. It’s in an area that gets plenty of foot traffic, but people are going to need to hunt for it.
“I don’t want to make it so obscure that nobody can find it, but you’re not going to drive by it. You’re going to have to find this place,” he said.
Willis plans to install the display on Thursday and Friday and will post clues about the location on his Instagram account, @chriswillis.
While Portlanders have come to know and love the tiny 13-inch Santas in the display, Willis said it was actually a 4-foot-tall Santa Claus that established his deep love for the holiday plastic blow-molds. His grandma owned the taller Santa and pulled it out with her decorations every year. Willis adored it and eventually, she gave it to him.
That started his collection of Empire Plastics decorations. He has snowmen, elves, reindeer and other Santas. He puts that festive collection of plastics on display in Sunlan Lighting on North Mississippi Avenue in Portland every year.
He stores all the decorations in his basement and said he has a very organized system to keep track of all the Santa Clones. It makes setting them up easier, he said.
Willis looks forward to people finding the Santa Clones display and hopes businesses in the area appreciate the foot traffic it draws.
“I love the attention it gets. I love being a part of Portland’s holiday traditions,” Willis said.
The best time to start looking for the Santas will be on Saturday or Sunday, Dec. 3 or 4, Willis said.