Holiday experiences with Santa will be a mix | News, Sports, Jobs

Santa Claus, Sid Fletcher, sits behind a glass barrier as he hears from Kendra Alexander of St. James, Minnesota, during his visit Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, to The Santa Experience at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota . Where permitted, some malls and big box stores offer Santa’s guests a choice of full contact or social distancing. A microphone in the green rooms picks up the conversations. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

NEW YORK — Santa Claus is back this year, but he’s urging caution as he continues to tiptoe through the pandemic.

“Be smart. Be considerate. If you get the slightest tickle in your throat, the slightest sensation, worry about yourself and everyone else, and know that Santa Claus will still be here next year. said Kevin Chesney, 57, who has worn the big red suit since he was a child.

Amid a slowdown at Jolly Old Elves — around 15% down in a large database — Chesney is busier than ever from his North Pole in Moorestown, New Jersey.

The photo studio where he works quickly sold out his 4,500 dates to sit with him and the other seven Santas in the studio stable.

They are among the brave in Santa’s ranks with full-contact visits, lap-sitting included, although Chesney wore a mask until just before the photos were taken.

Other Santas may not be wearing masks or plastic face shields, or hanging out in protective snow globes like many did last year, but it looks 50-50 this season that they’re not quite ready for hugs, whispers in their ears for secret wishes, and children smile or sob in their laps.

Some Santas will stay behind the barriers that popped up last year for security reasons. At the Mall of America in Minnesota, the big man will be housed in a log cabin behind a window with guests seated on benches in front of him. At 169 locations for outdoor retailers Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, benches will also be used, with plastic partitions deployed in some stores for Santa photo ops.

Other Santa Claus retailers and hosts offer the option of no contact or full contact, even when distancing mandates are not in place. And many require or encourage online reservations to reduce the number of people waiting.

More than 10 million American households visited Santa Claus in a mall or store in 2019, according to GlobalData Retail chief executive Neil Saunders. Nearly 73% of them also spent money at nearby restaurants or stores, he said. Last year, the company’s research found that 6.1 million households visited Santa Claus, with fewer retailers and malls offering the holiday star in person. Of these visitors, 62% ate or shopped nearby.

Saunders said projections this year call for around 8.9 million households to visit Santa Claus in person, with virtual tours remaining an important option.

“Ongoing concerns about the virus and ongoing restrictions in some states and localities continue to put the brakes on in-person Santa’s visit,” he said.

Chris Landtroop, spokesperson for Santa supplier Cherry Hill Programs, is optimistic. The new rollout of vaccinations for children ages 5-11 will certainly help.

“Santa Claus is so back and we’re super excited about it. Last year was incredibly difficult. said Landtroop.

The company is looking for Santas year-round for the 800 malls, big-box stores and other locations it serves, with options for contactless tours as well. Cherry Hill requires its Santas and other employees to be vaccinated and those with exemptions to be tested regularly.

“At the end of the day, we want customers to feel comfortable,” said Landtroop.

Luther Landon has been providing the Santa Claus experience at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota for nearly two decades. Last year he came up with the idea for a log cabin but was closed after one day due to the pandemic. It has pivoted to Virtual Santa and this year will offer both.

“We think it would be very irresponsible of us to just ignore it and pretend everything is back to normal,” he said of the pandemic. “We hid microphones so Santa could hear well. I know from our Santa community and know so many other Santas that the majority of them are reluctant, very reluctant, to go back to how they were before the pandemic. But we also have some that are like, you know what, I don’t care. Having these two groups is also what is happening in the country.

Russell Hurd of Royse City, Texas has been playing Santa Claus since 2017, after retiring from the military. He’ll be in his red suit to go with his long — and very real — white beard at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center near Dallas. His visits to the crowd are distanced and masks are mandatory. He can’t wait for this to end.

“As it was before, it is also important for us Santas. I mean, we are human beings. We yearn for this interaction, but for now we are doing what we can,” Hurd said.

Hurd is unvaccinated and regularly tested for COVID.

Count American Dream, a 3-million-square-foot mega-mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, among retailers offering remote Santa Claus. He’ll be on the ice, skating on the indoor rink with visitors and playing with guests in hot pink golf carts.

At Macy’s stores, Santa will make his list and double-check it behind a desk, with guests seated on the other side.

“We encourage everyone to maintain masking throughout their visits,” said Kathleen Wright, senior manager at Macy’s Branded Entertainment. “Santa Claus has been a Macy’s tradition since 1862, so we’re thrilled to be able to safely continue the tradition this year.”

At Oakbrook Center, a suburban Chicago mall owned by Brookfield Properties, Santa’s spot is a tricked-out motorhome with his fans allowed inside. Santa Claus will take place in 117 of the 132 malls Brookfield owns in 43 states. The company is following local mandates on security protocols, but will turn away anyone who requests it. The same goes for CBL Properties, which owns 63 malls in 24 states and offered safe-distancing Santa Claus visits last year.

“We’re bringing back a more traditional Santa Claus experience this year,” said CBL spokeswoman Stacey Keating. “Visitors who wish to can sit on Santa’s lap or bench. Masks will not be required on set or during photos unless a local mandate is in place. »

And, bonus: “We are also bringing back animal photo evenings with Santa,” she said, “as well as Santa Cares, a reservation-only event that caters to people with sensory sensitivities and for whom the traditional experience may be too overwhelming.”

The pandemic has taken its toll on Santa Claus in other ways.

Stephen Arnold, the 71-year-old leader of IBRBS (formerly the International Brotherhood of Really Bearded Santa Clauses), said his organization of around 2,000 Santas and Mrs Clauses had lost 57 Santas to COVID .

“Most of us are overweight, diabetic, with heart problems,” said Arnold, a longtime Santa working this year both virtually and in person in Memphis, Tennessee. “I mean, we’re prime targets for a disease like COVID.”

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