Bottom Line: Handmade toy store Santa’s Workshop to close as owners retire

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 11/7/2020 11:24:05 PM
Modified: 11/7/2020 11:24:35 PM

Long reported to be located at the North Pole, Santa’s Workshop in fact is based on the 2nd New Hampshire Turnpike in Unity.

But not for much longer.

Mr. and Mrs. Claus, better known locally as Ken and Mary Hall, are retiring and selling off the last of Ken’s handmade wooden toys that they have sold for the past 23 years from their roadside store called Santa’s Workshop.

The store will be open for a couple more weeks with marked-down prices as the couple sells the remainder of their toys, which also include Christmas decorations.

Ever since he trained as a carpenter in high school more than 70 years ago, Ken, 87, has been making wooden toy trucks, airplanes, dollhouses, dollhouse furniture, wooden toy barns, rocking horses, keepsake chests and boxes, wooden scooters, tyke-size chairs, tables, and stools.

Mary, 84, has been by his side as they traveled to crafts fairs around New England and kept their shop in Unity open each year until Christmas Eve.

“There were always last-minute shoppers,” Mary said.

The Halls’ wooden toys harkened back to another era.

“We didn’t make things that would fall apart. We wanted our toys to last,” Mary said. “Today, kids just sit in front of the computer or on the phone. Everything is made out of plastic now. It’s just sad.”

Ken would make just about anything out of wood. Besides toys, he made lawn furniture, house signs, birdhouses and bird feeders, in addition to handyman carpentry work such as bunk beds and cedar closets.

But with Ken’s declining health making it harder for him to get around, the Halls are selling their property and planning to move into a retirement facility. They’ve lived on the second floor of the home Ken built on the turnpike while his toy-making workshop was on the first floor.

“My husband would have loved to teach someone how to do this. It’s a dying art. It just breaks our heart,” Mary said about not being able to find anyone wanting to continue with Santa’s Workshop.

Ken would even play Santa on weekends during December for families visiting the store.

“One year, 32 kids showed up. They all got hot chocolate,” Mary said.

For many years the Halls also sold Christmas trees, which they acquired wholesale from the Christmas tree farm at The Rocks, a conservation and education program in Bethlehem, N.H.

“We always said, ‘Our trees come from Bethlehem.’ And we were right,” Mary said.

Veteran mortgage brokers strike out on their own

The U.S. economy is still hurting from the pandemic, but one sector experiencing its best year in recent memory is the real estate business, which is benefiting from an influx of “COVID-19 refugees” seeking to buy homes in the rural safety of the Upper Valley.

So two veteran Upper Valley real estate mortgage agents, Rob Messenger and Jessica Irwin, are taking advantage of the strong demand for home loans and have formed their own mortgage brokerage firm, Legacy Mortgage, in Hanover, focusing on the residential market.

“Even though we are in the midst of a pandemic, from a housing and financing standpoint, these areas are oddly booming right now,” Messenger said. “As the pandemic continues and doesn’t come to some type of conclusion, I think we are going to continue to see waves of people coming out of the city and move to the Upper Valley as more of a safe haven.”

Messenger said that the number of mortgages underwritten in 2020 is running at double the level of normal.

“In my 22 years in the Upper Valley, I’ve never seen anything like this, even in the 2005-to-2007 boom right before the crash,” he said, adding that he expects it to be “another year or two before we see some type of correction” in real estate.

Messenger, of Sunapee, and Irwin, of Enfield, both were previously affiliated with Title Mortgage Solution in Hanover.

Got a news tip? Slink on over and contact John Lippman at

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