Please don’t hug Santa. Malls and stores plan strict new COVID-19 holiday rules

Please don’t hug Santa. Malls and stores plan strict new COVID-19 holiday rules
Olivia Horne, left, 4, gives Santa her wish list, as her brother, Henry, listens, at SouthPark mall on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. (Source: David Foster | OBSERVER FILE PHOTO)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Charlotte Observer) - The coronavirus pandemic has not canceled Santa’s visits to stores and malls in the area and across the country. But there are new restrictions before children can approach Jolly St. Nick.

Plexiglas shields are in, bouncing on his lap is out. And so are hugs, although Santa will still smile for pictures with the kids. You’ll want to wear a mask and social distance too, and strongly consider making a reservation as well.

Those restrictions will be playing out in Charlotte, across the Carolinas and the country, according to a New Jersey company that provides Santas for hundreds of malls and shopping centers in the U.S.

And there are other ways Santa is breaking tradition in some places across the country. For instance, at New York CIty’s flagship Macy’s, after nearly 160 years, the company said it will offer virtual visits only.

But in other stores, children can begin sharing their Christmas wish lists in-person with Santa as soon as Saturday, Nov. 7.

Bass Pro Shops and its sister store Cabela’s welcomes the first local in-person visits with Santa Claus that day at all of its stores. There are 177 stores nationwide and in Canada for the two brands, including Bass Pro Shops in Concord Mills and Cabela’s in Fort Mill, S.C., according to the company.

There will be no sitting on his lap. Instead it will be a contactless visit, according to a company news release.

A clear shield barrier will be placed between Santa and families, and it will be sanitized between visits, according to the news release.

Advance reservations begin this week online and are required with times limited to allow for social distancing and cleanings. Because of the online reservation system, Santa’s arrival is about a week earlier than usual, according to the company.

There also will be a designated area for waiting and floor decals and signs to mark safe distancing. And everyone will be required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks.

SANTA AT THE MALLS

Santa also will arrive at Charlotte area malls later this month.

Cherry Hill Programs, based in New Jersey, is the company contracted to bring Santa to Charlotte’s eight area malls, according to the company.

On its website, the company says children can interact with Santa but will not be able to sit on his lap. Families can reserve a spot now.

And, Santa will still be in the photos and will hear children’s wishes while social distancing, said Adam Kamlet, spokesman for Northlake Mall.

According to Cherry Hill, social distancing steps will vary by location depending on the space. It will be a combination of six feet of distancing and physical separation by decorations or Plexiglas.

The 60-year-old Cherry Hill Programs provides Santa visits at 700 malls and shopping centers in the U.S. and Canada, company spokesman Matt Windt said. Cherry Hill has 1,300 Santas available for in person and virtual visits, according to the company. Several job postings are listed in the Charlotte area.

“We won’t let the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic stop Christmas for millions of families nationwide or stand in the way of their traditions,” said Matt Windt, chief marketing officer at Cherry Hill Programs, in an online statement.

Reservations are underway at all locations through mall or Cherry Hill Programs websites.

“We strongly encourage guests to schedule their visit with Santa in advance,” Windt said. “The intent here is to reduce wait times, encourage social distance and promote contactless payments.” Three photo packages are available starting at $39.99 to $49.99.

Kamlet said walk-up visits at Northlake Mall will be available as space allows throughout the day. Santa will be in the Grand Court adjacent to Bath & Body Works.

According to a news release from Simon, which owns Concord Mills and SouthPark, reservations are required for visits there with Santa.

The only local mall listed without a Santa in-person experience is Rock Hill Galleria mall in South Carolina. Anita Clark, general manager at Galleria, said the mall is working out plans to have a Santa but will not be using Cherry Hill Programs this year.

According to Cherry Hill Programs' reservation system online and mall websites, here’s when Santa arrives at the other malls:

Carolina Mall in Concord, Nov. 12.

Eastridge Mall in Gastonia, Nov. 12.

SouthPark Mall in south Charlotte, Nov. 20.

Northlake Mall in north Charlotte, Nov. 21.

Carolina Place in Pineville, Nov. 27.

Concord Mills in Concord, Nov. 27.

Monroe Crossing Mall in Monroe, Dec. 5.

Santa also will arrive Nov. 27 at Valley Hills Mall in Hickory and at Cleveland Mall in Shelby on Dec. 12.

In the Raleigh area, he’ll be at The Streets at Southpoint in Durham on Nov. 20 and Triangle Town Center in Raleigh on Dec. 4.

Cherry Hill Programs is not providing a live Santa at Cary Towne Center in Cary but there is a virtual experience, according to the company website.

MORE SANTA SAFETY PLANS

Along with socially distanced visits, Cherry Hill Programs has other COVID-19 safety measures. This could include physical barriers at locations such as registers where it’s difficult to maintain distancing guidelines, according to the company’s website. Cashless transactions are encouraged.

All guests age 2 and older must wear a face covering.

Between shifts, Santa’s suit will be sprayed with disinfectant, and high touch areas will be cleaned often, according to Cherry Hill Programs. Workers, including Santa, will have daily temperature checks.

One more thing. Virtual visits are a new option this year by Cherry Hill Programs beginning Friday, Nov. 6. Called Create Holiday Magic, online options include a personalized Zoom video call with Santa, photos including pets, souvenir box and storytime with Santa.

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