This year’s Santa experience is a mixture of laps and distances

This year’s Santa experience is a mixture of laps and distances

New York – Santa Claus is back this year, but he is being careful as he continues to tiptoe during the pandemic.

If you have the tiniest tickle in your throat, the tiniest feeling, you worry about yourself and worry about everyone else, and you know Santa will always be there, said Kevin Chesney, 57, who wore the big red suit. Next year “. Since he was a child.

Amid a dip in Jolly Old Elvis — about 15 percent lower in one large database — Chesney is busier than ever than his Arctic home in Moorstown, New Jersey. His photo studio soon sold 4,500 seating dates with him and seven other Santas in the studio stable.

They’re among the bravest in Santa’s ranks with full contact visits, including lap sitting, even though Chesney wears a mask even just before the photo shoot.

Other Santas may not be wearing masks or plastic face shields, or hanging out in protective snowballs as many did last year, but it seems 50-50s this season aren’t quite ready for hugs, whispered in their ears for secret wishes and kids are smiling or crying on their knees .

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Some Santa Claus members will remain behind the barriers that came up last year for safety. At the Mall of America in Minnesota, the big man will be positioned in a log cabin behind the window with guests sitting on benches in front of him. At 169 locations for outdoor retailers Bass Pro and Capella Stores, benches will also be used, with plastic sections posted in some stores for Santa photo ops.

Retailers and other Santa hosts offer the option of no contact or full contact, even when there are no distance authorizations. Many are requesting or encouraging online reservations to reduce the number of people waiting.

More than 10 million American families visited Santa at a mall or store in 2019, according to GlobalData Retail’s managing director, Neil Saunders. He said nearly 73% of them also spent money in nearby restaurants or stores. Last year, the company’s research found that 6.1 million households visited Santa, with fewer retailers and malls serving the holiday star in person. Of these visitors, 62% eat or shop nearby.

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Saunders said projections this year are that about 8.9 million families are expected to visit Santa in person, and virtual visits are still a big option.

“Ongoing concerns about the virus and ongoing restrictions in some states and localities remain a brake to visiting Santa in person,” he said.

Chris Landtrop, a spokeswoman for Cherry Hill Programs, an upbeat Santa Claus vendor. Starting new vaccinations for children from 5 to 11 years old will definitely help.

“Santa is back so much and we are so excited about it. Last year has been incredibly difficult,” Landtroop said.

The company supplies Santas year-round with 800 malls, department stores, and other locations it serves, with options for offline visits as well. Cherry Hill is asking Santas and other employees to be vaccinated and those with exceptions to be tested regularly.

“At the end of the day, we want guests to feel comfortable,” Landtrop said.

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Luther Landon has been providing the Santa experience at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, for nearly two decades. Last year, he hit upon the idea of ​​the log cabin but it was closed a day later due to the pandemic. He’s turned into a virtual Santa and this year will offer both.

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

In Royce, Texas, Russell Heard has been playing Santa since 2017, after he retired 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 and Convention Center near Dallas. His visits are with crowds far apart and masks are required. He longs for it to be over.

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“In the usual way, it’s meaningful to us Santas too. I mean, we’re human. We crave that interaction, but right now we’re doing what we can,” Heard said.

Heard is not vaccinated and is regularly tested for coronavirus.

“I know a lot of unenthusiastic Santas all over the country. I mean, it’s not just Texans.” He said.

Count American Dream, a massive 3 million square foot mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is among the retailers that service remote Santa Claus. He’ll be on ice, skating on the indoor rink with visitors, and also ride around with guests in hot pink golf carts.

At Macy’s, Santa will make and double check his menu from behind a desk, with guests seated on the other side.

“We encourage everyone to keep masks on throughout their visits,” said Kathleen Wright, Senior Manager at Macy’s Branded Entertainment. “Santa Claus has been part of the Messi tradition since 1862, so we are thrilled that we can continue that tradition safely this year.”

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In Oakbrook Center, a suburban Chicago mall owned by Brookfield Properties, Santa’s is a deceptive mobile home that he lets his fans in. Santa Fe will be located in 117 of the 132 Brookfield-owned malls in 43 states. The company follows local instructions regarding safety protocols but will turn away anyone who asks. The same goes for CBL Properties, which owns 63 malls in 24 states and provided visits to Santa from a safe distance last year.

“We’re bringing back a more traditional Santa experience this year,” said CBL spokeswoman Stacy Keating. “Visitors who wish to do so will be able to sit on Santa’s lap or on Santa’s seat. There will be no need for masks on site or during photos unless there is a local authorization in place.”

And a bonus: “We’re also taking pet photos with Santa,” she said, “as well as Santa Kers, a reservation-only event that caters to people with sensory sensitivities for whom the traditional experience can be too overwhelming.”

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The pandemic has affected Santa Claus in other ways.

Stephen Arnold, 71-year-old president of IBRBS (formerly the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas), said his organization of about 2,000 Santas and Mrs. Clauses has lost 57 Popes to COVID.

“Most of us are overweight, diabetic, and have heart disease,” said Arnold, a longtime Santa who works this year both physically and personally in Memphis, Tennessee. “I mean, we’re prime targets for a disease like COVID.”

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Follow Leanne Italie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/litalie

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