NILES, Ohio (WKBN) — Visiting Santa and telling him gift wishes is a timeless childhood tradition.
Last year, malls across America had to take special precautions because of the pandemic. This year, some experts are seeing a 15% decline in actors willing to play Santa.
“Back in the springtime, we started talking about what are the plans for Christmas time,” said Eastwood Mall spokesperson Joe Bell.
Several months ago, Eastwood Mall got word there could be a possible Santa shortage.
Children were not able to get the vaccine then and most Santas are played by older men, posing a possible health risk.
“We don’t necessarily have to have the children sitting on Santa’s lap and you didn’t necessarily have to have Santa at one of these ‘Breakfast with Santa’ events,” Bell said. “No one knew how long it would take to get kids vaccinated so this is why we made these accommodations.”
About half an hour away at Southern Park Mall, they said they haven’t felt a shortage. There, children can either sit on Santa’s lap or a bench in front of him.
Santa at the Eastwood Mall said last year was a whole different experience.
“Last year we had a screen in front of us and the kids had to talk through the plexiglass. This year, you get to see them face to face,” said Santa Claus, played by Neil Hane.
He’s spent close to a quarter century as Saint Nick at Christmas. He said he’s vaccinated and never planned on skipping out this year.
“It brings smiles to the kids, seeing the joy and everything. The smiling. Some kids cry but you get used to it. It’s a lot of fun,” Hane said.