Capping the fantasy each night are convincing artificial snowfalls that powder the town square for up to 15 minutes. Traditional tunes such as -- surprise -- "Let It Snow" and "Winter Wonderland" set the beat.
Former Cleveland magician Adam Williams developed the "snow" formula as part of an illusion for his theatrical show.
Then he set up a Los Angeles-based business that drops the white stuff at celebrations in such non-frigid locations as Dolphin Mall in Miami and the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu.
The snow is made from a water-based non-chemical foam with a dash of mint scent to create the impression of a chill in the air, Williams said.
Victoria Gardens' bid to start a small-town holiday tradition is aided by the fact that Rancho Cucamonga is a young city without a historic core. It was formed in 1977 by the merging of the unincorporated agricultural communities of Alta Loma, Cucamonga and Etiwanda.
Forest City Enterprises Inc. and Lewis Retail Centers opened the $300-million, 160-acre complex in 2004 near the 10, 210 and 15 freeways. To make it feel more like an old-fashioned Main Street than a mall, they arranged it in 12 blocks with 30 buildings intended to suggest a range of eras.
"The developers really wanted to define Victoria Gardens as a central gathering spot," Miller said.
City leaders also built a cultural center next door that included a library and performing arts center. Watching over the lobby is a bronze statue of comedian Jack Benny, who had a running gag on his radio show about trains leaving "for Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc ... amonga."
Christmas "is the biggest event in the retail industry and make-it-or-break-it season for many," consultant Barnard said. "That is why it is important that they get people to anticipate the holiday."
For Miller and his management staff of 30, that means putting in 12-hour days six or seven times a week throughout the holiday rush.
"There are days when it's tiring," he said, "but there's nothing like standing in the town square during a snowfall and watching kids scream with joy catching snow on their tongues. It's all worth it at that point."
Times staff writer Francisco Vara-Orta contributed to this report.
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Victoria Gardens at a glance
* Location: Near the 10, 15 and 210 freeways in Rancho Cucamonga
* Construction cost: $300 million
* Opened: 2004
* Owners: Forest City Enterprises Inc. and Lewis Retail Centers
* Size: 1.5 million square feet
with more than 150 shops and eateries
* Largest businesses: Macy's, JC Penney and AMC Theatres
Los Angeles Times