Santa Has a Pandemic Plan
Bloomberg Businessweek|November 23 - 30, 2020
Santa Has a Pandemic Plan
Thanks to Covid, kids are trading Santa’s lap for video chats and plexiglass shields
James E. Ellis
The coronavirus has upended many aspects of life, dramatically changing how people work, study, and even worship. Now it’s primed to wreak havoc on another pillar of modern existence: Santa Claus. Macy’s Inc., the iconic department-store chain whose 34th Street flagship in Manhattan is the setting for the most famous Santa movie ever, has announced that the jolly old elf won’t be visiting because of the pandemic. And while Santas in many malls across the U.S. haven’t gotten the boot, their traditional faux North Pole backdrops near the food court are going to look a lot different this year, when many of their brethren will be checking their nice and naughty lists online.

Children at the Park Meadows mall in Denver will be able to greet a masked Santa sitting safely on his sleigh 6 feet away, and families at Orlando’s Altamonte shopping center will share their wish lists from the bottom of a mountain of gifts with a socially distanced St. Nick perched on top. At the SoNo Collection, an upscale mall in Norwalk, Conn., a masked Santa will be behind a plexiglass shield shaped like a snow globe, giving the illusion that he’s trapped inside, safe from the kids chatting him up from the other side.

They’re all ways mall developer Brookfield Property Partners LP has devised to protect the seasonal performers—who are often older and plumper, putting them at higher risk of Covid complications—while also driving the holiday foot traffic that’s so critical to retailers’ bottom lines.

This holiday season, just 45% of U.S. consumers plan to go to a shopping mall, down from 64% who visited last November and December, according to an International Council of Shopping Centers survey. Having no Santa to draw families would be the latest blow to retailers, dozens of which have filed for bankruptcy in the past year, from J.C. Penney Co. to J.Crew Group Inc.

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November 23 - 30, 2020