NEW YORK — Santa Claus is coming to the mall — just don’t try to sit on his lap.
Despite the pandemic — and the fact that Santa’s age and weight put him at high risk for severe illness from the coronavirus — mall owners are going ahead with plans to bring him back this year.
But they are doing all they can to keep the jolly old man safe, including banning kids from sitting on his knee, no matter if they’ve been naughty or nice.
Kids will instead tell Santa what they want for Christmas from six feet away, and sometimes from behind a sheet of plexiglass. Santa and his visitors may need to wear a face mask, even while posing for photos. And some malls will put faux gift boxes and other decorations in front of Saint Nick to block kids from charging toward him.
Other safety measures include online reservations to cut down on lines, workers wiping down holiday-decorated sets, and hand sanitizer aplenty. Santa’s hours are also getting cut to give him a break from crowds.
Macy’s canceled its in-person visits this year, saying it couldn’t provide a safe environment for the more than 250,000 people that show up to see Kriss Kringle at its New York flagship store.
But malls, which have struggled to attract shoppers for years, are not willing to kill a holiday tradition that is one of their biggest ways to lure people during the all-important holiday shopping season.
“You have to give them a reason to come or they’ll stay home and shop online,” says Michael Brown, who oversees the retail team at consulting firm Kearney.
More than 10 million U.S. households visited Santa in a mall or store last year, according to GlobalData Retail’s managing director Neil Saunders. Nearly 73% of them also spent money at nearby restaurants or stores, he says.
“Santa is the magnet that attracts people to malls and without that attraction, malls will struggle more to generate foot traffic,” says Saunders.
Mall operator CBL, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this month, plans to bring Santa to nearly 60 malls at the end of November, about three weeks later than last year. The company decided against a plexiglass barrier because it didn’t look right in photos. But Santa will be socially distanced and wear a face mask. He may also put on a plastic shield to protect his face.
“We’re doing everything possible so that he stays healthy,” says Mary Lynn Morse, CBL’s marketing vice president.
Stephanie Soares is sticking to the old way. She brought her daughter, Gia, to a Bass Pro Sports store last week in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to take a picture with Santa, who wore a clear plastic face shield and sat behind a glare-free acrylic barrier that sometimes made it hard to hear what the kids were saying. A worker sprayed down the barrier after each visit.
“Even though we’re in a pandemic, it’s important that the kids are still able to be kids and still keep up with the regular traditions,” says Soares. Source
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