The Elves are Busy at Santa’s Workshop

Did you know that Santa’s Workshop is in Cincinnati?

You can find Santa’s Workshop in Mariemont — and it’s one of the coolest holiday traditions in the city. The Shillito’s Elves used to be a major holiday attraction at the flagship store on 7th and Race — which was Cincinnati’s very first department store! During the 1950’s, ’60s and ’70s, the Shillito’s Elves were part of some of the most elaborate window displays in the city.

More than 130 animated figures filled Shillito’s downtown store, bringing Santa’s Workshop to life through seven storefront scenes, 20 in-store merchandising widows and 10 interior vignettes. Moved by levers and gears, the elves spent the holidays building toys, sorting Santa’s mail and loading his sleigh. Then, in 1982, Shillito’s became Lazarus… and the elves disappeared.

Fast forward 30+ years to 2006, when the Elves were brought back to life by Cincinnatian Bill Spinnenweber, whose family owns the Mariemont Inn. After a few moves, the Elves found a new home in Downtown Mariemont, next to LaRosa’s and across from the National Exemplar.


All this history is important to know, because, if you didn’t know anything about it — you might be taken aback by the uncanny and quite lifelike little elves. They hammer. They drive forklifts. They paint and string lights and fall off ladders. The elves are busy at Santa’s Workshop!


These scenes are elaborate and whimsical and humorous — definitely unlike any other holiday exhibit in Cincinnati.

Older kids will love all the little details — the scenes are like the pages of an I Spy book come to life! At each display, there are fun games and prompts to get kids to engage and interact with what they’re seeing. The elves also have name tags — and kids will get a kick out of all the unique elf names. (In fact, you can get a kid or grandparent the coolest Christmas gift ever by naming one of the elves!)



Younger kids may be a little overwhelmed at first, because these busy workers are literally toddler sized, and are meticulously dressed in authentic elf attire. Plus, thanks to an intricate (and unseen) system of pulleys, levers and Santa magic, these elves move in a very realistic manner! My two-year-old got more comfortable as we went along, and really enjoyed watching the “guys working.”

Santa’s Workshop also boasts an in-house mailbox just for kids’ letters to Santa. Download a letter here for your kids to fill out. Harvey enjoyed pulling the lever and sending his letter to Santa.


Santa’s Workshop is unique Cincinnati tradition, and I’m really glad it’s been brought back for my kids to enjoy. Window displays are a fun blast from the past — and the Shillito’s Elves don’t disappoint. The elves will be working until December 31 at their location in Mariemont (6940 Madisonville Rd., 45227). Admission is $4 for adults and children 3 and under are free. Hours and more details can be found here.


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