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 in the US are going ahead with plans to bring him back this year, reports the Associated Press. 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 sanitiser 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 over 2,50,000 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 US households visited Santa in a mall or store last year, according to GlobalData Retail’s managing director Neil Saunders. Nearly 73 per cent 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.”
But precautions may not be enough to convince some shoppers. Malls realise many people may stay home. Cherry Hill Programs, which will bring Santa to more than 700 malls, is also offering Zoom calls with him for the first time in its 60-year history. And Brookfield teamed up with virtual Santa company JingleRing, giving people a way to chat with Santa from home. Going online gives Santa a chance to experiment with his attire. Some may ditch the formal red suit for vests and rolled up sleeves, since Santa is presumably calling from the North Pole and running a toy workshop full of busy elves.