FAIRFIELD — Santa's No. 1 helper has stepped into to fill in a big suit at a garden center in North Jersey.

Ray Beesley, a long time Christmastime fixture at the Christmas Ice Caverns at the Fairfield Garden Center, died and was laid to rest last Friday. But even at the North Pole the show must go on, and "Santa Floyd" is making that possible, according to owner John Fernicola.

"Ray personally picked him. The very few, few times Ray couldn't be here in the last 8 years because he was sick or another commitment ... he would use Floyd. He looks just as good, his demeanor is the same as Ray — very soft spoken to the kids — and he works really well, so we decided to make him the now permanent replacement."

Beesley had many requests to play Santa at private parties and events, and often would work until 8 p.m. and then go off to an one of those functions.

"He couldn't do them all, so he would (use) Floyd as his fill-in to go for him," Fernicola said.

Fernicola, who called Feeney the "rock star of Santas" said his the garden center received lots of support on Facebook and phone calls from customers who said they came to see "Santa" as a child and now brought their own kids.

"I was literally clicking from one call to the next call to another explaining to people what happened. Once people got used to the idea they were starting to bring gifts to the store."

Fernicola said Floyd is "the next best thing to Ray."

Beesley's four daughters, two sons, and give grandchildren have created a fund called Ray's Children's Miracles and a GoFundMe page to accept donations to help provide holiday joy to children in need and continue his legacy.

"He made doubters into believers. He reminded parents that their children were their greatest gift, and gently reminded them to take care of themselves. He was a man who selflessly brought hope, love, kindness, belief, and a chance to relive our childhood with the spirit of Christmas," according to the page.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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