CHICAGO — The impact of the pandemic appears to have reached the North Pole.
For this holiday season, Santa may be stuck behind plexiglass. Malls across the country are planning pandemic-proof visits to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Mall Santa Steve Miller has been putting on the red suit full-time for four years.
“I prefer to do the mall, because I do it for the kids,” sad Miller.
But this year, there won’t be any hugs or sitting on Santa’s knee.
“Because of the virus, it's going to take a little of fun out of it, but it's going to be much more safe, which is the number one thing that we want,” said Miller.
Appearances by St. Nick at malls, corporate events and private appearances is a holiday tradition that’s already being impacted by the pandemic.
“We've been working with a lot of retailers as well as malls too. How can we still have the experience of Santa, but keep everybody safe?” said Mitch Allen, founder of HireSanta.com.
According to entertainment staffing firm Hire Santa, bookings that usually peak beginning in early November were down 95% due to coronavirus concerns. But after advertising their safety efforts, demand is up 20% compared to this time last year.
“The Santa Claus entertainers, as you can imagine, they're a high-risk group. So, we want to make sure that Santa's safety is our number one priority,” said Allen.
Allen says they’ve developed a plexiglass "Santa shield" that creates a physical barrier to allow for photos with Santa.
“We at HireSanta.com are also working on virtual Santa visits where you can literally visit with Santa within the confines of your own home,” said Allen.
Brookfield Properties, the second largest operator of U.S. malls, says it will host Santa in 134 of its 150 plus malls with "touchless experiences."
Santa’s Village, a popular Illinois amusement park temporarily shut down by the pandemic, is taking Santa on the road.
“For over 60 years, boys and girls have come to the house here in the park to visit me. But now we're going to take my house to your house,” said the amusement park’s Santa Claus.
Their mobile Santa home has a separate entrance and exit to maintain social distancing, and a working fireplace will keep visitors warm and plenty of masks and "Santa-tizer" will be on hand as well.
“It's great, because we can actually bring again that magic from the park to people's individual homes in local communities,” said Santa’s Village marketing director Brian Wright. “That way people can actually have a personalized visit with Santa.”
Whether behind plexiglass or inside a traveling "One North Pole," changes are afoot to ensure that Santa Claus is still coming to town.