Santa Claus is still coming to malls, cautious amid pandemic

Becky and Mike Crews are Santa and Mrs. Claus in the eyes of Marlee and Connor Stephens.

 

Even the Grinch pandemic won’t stop a vaccinated Santa from holding children on his lap in Brevard County malls.

But parents and grandparents can choose more social-distance options, make a reservation and observe other precautions.

“We’re very excited to bring Santa and Mrs. Claus back for another holiday season. Last year, we only had socially-distanced visits. This year, guests can sit on a bench in front of Santa or on his lap,” said Michele Reyes, the marketing director at The Avenue Viera.

The reduced visiting hours, plexiglass screens and face coverings of 2020 are part of the ghost of Christmas past. “We’re fortunate to be an outdoor center where both space and ventilation is ample,” Reyes said.

Mike and Becky Crews have portrayed Santa and Mrs. Claus for 15 years, since Becky was on the Brevard Zoo board and they needed replacements.

“Last year, we used shields and masks and distance to separate us from families. We used a lot of alcohol to sanitize our hands after each visit,” Becky said.

They’ll take precautions again — yes, they’re fully vaccinated. “It’s important to carry on family traditions. We have families who have 10 to 15 years of photos of their kids and families with us,” Becky said.

Alisha Kish, the marketing director for the Melbourne Square Mall, said those who pre-register at melbournesquare.com for a time slot will visit Santa faster than walk-ins. Customers have a choice of sitting on a bench, on Santa’s lap or visiting a sensitive Santa before hours in a private setting, a choice for children with sensory disorders.

Kish said Santa photos help business.

“People come here sometimes just for the holiday photos, but many include dinner and shopping.”

The mall’s website also lists other holiday traditions, such as Meet the Grinch with the Melbourne Police Department and Paws and Claws Night.

“These are annual events we are glad to welcome back,” Kish said.

Both Melbourne Square and Merritt Square Mall hired Cherry Hill Programs, a New Jersey-based firm, for the Santa photos. Chris Landtroop, the vice president of marketing, wrote in a prepared statement that “All CDC (Centers for Disease Control) safety guidelines for COVID-19 will be followed … including social distancing, face coverings and enhanced sanitation. Additionally, as part of Cherry Hill Program COVID safety protocols, reservations and advance photo package sales are encouraged.

Bass Pro Shop in Palm Bay will offer free 4- by 6-inch contactless photos with Santa. Children will sit on a bench in front of the jolly St. Nick. Reservations are required online within seven days at basspro.com/santa.