The words “All aboard!” will have an artistic, wonderous meaning for the next month for shoppers at Inlet Square.
The mall in Murrells Inlet has plans to begin its “Holiday Express” train rides this weekend, with tours on its year-round, signature wheeled tour vehicle into a winter wonderland, starting with a schedule of 1-6 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays and 4-7 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, said Ann Kyle, general manager.
She credited Henry Challe, the mall’s new event coordinator, for “his big idea” with the train to transform its use for Christmastime.
The ride, departing from the food court — also where Santa Claus will arrive at 10 a.m. Saturday and host a free breakfast at 10:30 a.m. — will cruise through part of the mall, including vacant store space with an elaborate scene arranged and painted by Challe.
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Kyle said for this venture, “something we’ve never done before,” Challe has given new life to the mall’s old yuletide decor, which was retired after 2012.
She said she loves the “whole atmosphere” that has taken shape in the past month with elements conceived “all in Henry’s head,” especially with a route that will include a breeze through flakes from a snow machine and the sounds of jingling bell ornaments, as well as having cocoa available.
This aims to “be a really family-affordable experience,” Kyle said of the chance to escape “the real world” and “believe” for a few minutes.
The fare is nominal: $2 for adults, $1 for children, and Kyle said for this “team effort,” the mall tenants all have been supportive and excited to see the rollout of the results.
Challe said everyone in the mall realized this project has been a “big undertaking” and that “as it evolved, more and more of the scenes within the story expanded and sort of became much, much bigger than we thought.”
The ride will take about 5 minutes and cross a main area spanning several thousand square feet, said Challe, who has painted most of the backdrops and scenery for this and, like Kyle, noted the rewards from “repurposing,” or recycling.
Challe estimated he has gone through about 30 gallons of paint but needed to buy only 5 gallons, while putting older, unused, donated paint in motion.
“I managed to use up so much of the paint people brought to me,” he said, “and I took another crash course in creating different colors. By accident, I made a lot of unusual browns, kind of an oatmeal color. … It’s harder than I thought to make green — the right green.”
He also thanked the mall staff for pitching in and rounding up so many holiday materials and parts, including animal and elf figurines, from “all different spaces in the mall” that were used in “various forms … through the years.”
Challe said that “years ago,” he wanted to study animals, and he spent time at an art design school in Savannah, Ga., “but I ended up going into marketing and business instead.”
Still, coming from a family of sisters who “all draw and paint,” Challe said, “I spent most of my time doodling.”
“I always felt much happier when engaged in some kind of creative expression,” he said.
Challe, who has a short commute to work from Surfside Beach, also realizes that the end of the year will trigger some sadness, when the whole “Holiday Express” theme will go into the wheelhouse, but “we have created it in such a way that a lot of it can be broken down” and stored for reassembly.
Without thinking for a second, Challe gave his answer for his favorite Christmas movie or TV special: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the Rankin/Bass stop-motion classic from 1964 that airs on broadcast TV every December.
He also said he has re-created the beauty of a “polar ice cap” in the mall with inspiration from the scene where the character Yukon Cornelius sails on an iceburg with Rudolph and crew.
“That’s a testament to great design,” Challe said.