August 21, 2014

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Ex-Skating Santa: ‘I was told I’d have the job as long as I wanted it’

Paul Chernosky always knew performing was in his blood. The Brunswick High School graduate left the high school musical stage in the 1980s for the bright lights of New York City.

But for the last 15 years, he has been known to many New Yorkers as the Skating Santa of New York’s Rockefeller Center.

Paul Chernosky and Marni Halasa in the rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City. (COURTESY PHOTO)

But this year, the company that manages the rink hired new santas, leaving Chernosky out of a job he was told was his as recently as mid-November.

Shortly after a phone call from the rink manager promising he had looked at other santas but had no luck, the Patina Restaurant Group, which operates the Rockefeller rink, notified him it would be hiring a rotating group of santas to replace him.

“Two days before I found out I was fired, they told me I had the job and they hadn’t found anyone else,” Chernosky said.

Chernosky hired an attorney and said he hasn’t been given an explanation and is upset that the company led him to believe he had a job as early as October. That month he was told a schedule would be sent to him soon outlining his work hours this holiday season.

“I was always told I would have the job as long as I wanted it,” he said.

Chernosky said what started as a seasonal job turned into a passion for the multi-faceted performer.

“Not only was it a tradition for me, but I got to know the families that came each year,” he said.

The path to becoming the Skating Santa took many turns along the way, and by the time he took the job in 1997 Chernosky was trained in musical theater, dance and skating.

Chernosky said he always was interested in musical theater and figure skating, practicing many early mornings at the Winterhurst ice rink in Lakewood. He skated before classes while attending Brunswick High School and was active in the school’s musical productions.

After high school, he joined the North Coast Dance company in Cleveland before heading to New York City to pursue a career as a performer. He attended New York University’s School of the Arts, studying modern dance, but he especially was interested in choreography.

While in New York, Chernosky participated in Radio City Music Hall Christmas productions, an international tour of “Hello Dolly” and a production of “Miracle on 34th Street.”

He eventually would move to Berlin, where he lives now and teaches dance, but the holidays meant a return to his friends in New York and his job as Skating Santa.

“It was a wonderful blessing and a wonderful job,” he said. He took countless photos with skaters at the rink, but on slower days, he would skate with young and old alike.

Paul Chernosky came to Cleveland to visit family for the holidays after losing his Skating Santa job at Rockefeller Center in New York City. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY LOREN GENSON)

“There were a lot of adults who really looked forward to skating with Santa,” Chernosky said.

He also listened to Christmas wish lists of the littlest skaters and helped arrange many proposals.

“One I really remember was the woman was sitting on my leg, and the man was on his knee right in front of me,” he said. “She said yes, and then they kissed, it was a passionate kiss, and I was just sitting there right between them, it lasted a really long time. I kept wondering when it would stop.”

Chernosky said he remembers many moments from a job he never knew he would grow to love so much.

“I just missed seeing all the people this year,” he said.

To make matters worse, management threw away the ice skates he had kept at the company offices while he was not in New York.

“I’ve kept the skates there for years, and I’ve been told I could keep them there,” he said.

He said the skates were professional quality designed for competitive skaters and are expensive to replace at a cost of about $900. He said his former boss, Eric Kaplan, who serves as vice president of Patina Restaurant Group, promised to replace the skates, but has yet to make good on the promise.

Chernosky and his friend Marni Halasa, also a professional skater, are speaking out about his firing because they believe it was handled badly.

Halasa, who is from Bath Township, accompanied Chernosky on a holiday visit to Cleveland to be with family.

In an interview, she said she was so disappointed by the way Chernosky was treated.

“We’re not trying to disparage the other santas,” she said, referring to the rotating group of santas the company hired to replace Chernosky. “It’s just that you have to let someone leave with dignity.”

The pair started an online petition on change.org that already has more than 1,600 signatures.

Many signers from around the country said they look forward to seeing Chernosky, and his experience as an actor and skater are what set him apart from the others.

Audrey Wahl, of Cleveland, signed the petition and wrote: “My family and I come to New York during the Christmas season, primarily to skate with Paul. If he won’t be there, we won’t come either. Please keep him skating for all of us!”

Chernosky said he wanted to maybe reach out to other performers and seasonal help who count on annual income and are let go just before the holiday season without explanation.

“There was just no consideration for me and that is infuriating,” he said.

According to the New York Post, Patina spokeswoman Tanja Yokum said in a statement:

“Our relationship with Paul Chernosky was discontinued this year, when after several discussions about his quality of service as one of our Skating Santas the decision was made to go with another vendor.”

Paul said he never had any discussions about the quality of his service.

“We just never had any conversation like that,” he said.

Though Chernosky knew he would be out of work days before he left Berlin, he decided to continue with his plans to travel back to New York for December. He sang in a gospel choir in the city during the holiday season, and said he had the opportunity to visit with friends in New York and Cleveland and work on a screenplay he hopes to market soon.

Chernosky has had some success at film festivals with two short films he produced, one, entitled “Milonga Gay,” is about the many Tango dance studios in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Some studios feature Tango classes for male-male partner groupings — the way the traditional dance was performed.

He’s also written a children’s book inspired by the true story of his Santa skate boots that he once left in a New York cab.

“I’m looking to get an illustrator, but I’ve already written the book,” he said.

Chernosky said he’s not ruling out a Skating Santa gig next Christmas season if the right offer comes along.

“I’d like to find a way to be a Skating Santa again,” he said. “It’s something I planned to continue doing.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.