FORT MILL, S.C. (WBTV) - Tony Harkey is getting ready for a new gig this holiday season, setting out his pants, his boots, his coat and his glasses.
“To help Santa see better,” he says.
He left his last Santa gig at the Fort Mill Cabela's store, once he saw reviews online, after his first day.
"I had to go outside and cry,” he says. “Because I didn't want my kids to see.”
He found comments on the store's Facebook page, including people saying he looked 'nothing like Santa,' that their photo won't be going on the Christmas card, and that it would be better not have a Santa at all.
"I couldn't go back in that chair after the people that talked about me so negatively on their Facebook page,” Harkey says.
He feels the critiques are based on the color of his skin.
"Nothing showed performance,” he says. “It said, 'he doesn't look like Santa.'"
He says he wanted the store to defend him, but feels it did not, in its Facebook replies assuring customers would be taken care of.
In a statement Friday night, Cabela’s told WBTV:
Mr. Harkey resigned from the contractor that employed him before bringing any of his concerns to our attention. We first learned about them through the media and immediately contacted Mr. Harkey to learn more. In that conversation, he told us he had a positive experience with us – including our team members and management – all of whom embraced Mr. Harkey and proudly welcomed him to our store. Cabela’s is proud to host Santa’s Wonderland, which invites people from all backgrounds and walks of life, to experience the magic of Christmas.
Harkey says he is still going back out as Santa for other gigs, because it is something he always wanted to do.
"It's amazing how much a person or a character can make everyone happy as far as kids,” he says. “Kids smiling and kids telling me what they want for Christmas means everything to me."
He says he is keeping the negative comments out of mind, for those appearances.
"Kids can feed off your energy, so it's not about what I look like,” he says. "It's the spirit, and the happiness, and the love that you carry in your heart that makes you a good Santa."
That new appearance he has Saturday morning will be in Charlotte’s NODA neighborhood at Khali Yoga.