In B.C.'s malls, pet shops and more, visits with Santa Claus are being St. Nixed

·4 min read

When your little one gets their photo taken with Santa Bob Cristofoli, they can expect kind words, a listening ear and maybe a dog treat.

Cristofoli has been a professional Santa Claus at malls, stores, private events and especially pet photo events for three years now.

On Tuesday he was at Pets-N-Us, a Delta, B.C., pet store scheduled to hold their 26th annual charity fundraiser for animal rescue organizations — in recent years it has been PB and Chi Dog Rescue — on Dec. 13.

"We've had ducks, we've had a turtle, we've had ferrets, cats, you name it. If you've got a pet, bring it here," Cristofoli said.

Christian Amundson/CBC
Christian Amundson/CBC

But Tuesday was a long time ago. On Thursday, after new provincial health guidelines and orders were issued, Pets-N-Us co-owner Michelle LeMoignan announced she would cancel the long-running event for 2020 — a first for the shop.

"It was a tough decision," LeMoignan said. "But safety is our first concern for our patrons, our staff and our volunteers. So that's what we did. "

Like almost every facet of our lives, events with Santa — for little ones of all species — are in flux this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Liam Britten/CBC
Liam Britten/CBC

Santa Claus is coming to town — or not

CBC News inquired with several other stores that had previously held Santa photo fundraisers with pets but none asked were doing them this year. The BC SPCA has cancelled theirs as well.

When it comes to opportunities for Santa photos with little humans, many malls have decided to cancel.

B.C. malls Pacific Centre in Vancouver and Richmond Centre had planned to host Santa photos with physical distancing, plexiglass barriers and other precautions but scrapped those plans last week.

Cadillac Fairview/Facebook
Cadillac Fairview/Facebook

Brentwood Town Centre in Burnaby is going ahead with their Santa photos: their Santa, 24-year veteran Michael McCain, will be behind plexiglass, kept distant from kids and masks will be worn by guests the entire time.

"I had to be convinced ... that everybody was going to be safe," McCain said. "I am a senior, my wife is as well and I have a daughter who has immune deficiencies.

"I'm comfortable with what we've done."

Outside the Lower Mainland, Pine Centre Mall in Prince George — the largest largest indoor mall north of Kelowna — has cancelled their Santa photo plans, which, a spokesperson said, normally draws 1,000 to 2,000 people a day.

Christian Amundson/CBC
Christian Amundson/CBC

Lost employment

But McCain said other Santas are taking a pass on working the 2020 holidays.

Event planner Rozmin Watson has heard that as well. She organizes a yearly Santa school where lessons include suit care, beard care, talking to children of various ages and even some basic sign language.

She also gets Santa performers gigs through her company, Hire A Santa.

Liam Britten/Zoom
Liam Britten/Zoom

The hourly pay of a Santa Claus starts around $15 an hour, she said, but for private events, the pay can go up to $200 or $300 hourly.

This year, those events are not happening.

"Normally this time of the year, we would already be pretty much sold out," Watson said.

"This year, we've maybe had maybe 80 or 90 inquiries, but maybe only six confirmed bookings. But even of those bookings, we had three cancellations just last week."

Virtual Christmas miracle?

Watson's school, like so many other educational institutions, went online this year.

Part of the lesson plan, she said, was how to do Santa visits online, through skills like storytelling, as some traditional hosts of the Jolly Old Elf have pivoted to virtual events.

At Pets-N-Us, LeMoignan is hopeful she can still help out the dog rescue society with an online event even though the in-person one has been cancelled.

Details, she said, are still to be worked out.

"The dog rescue depends on [the fundraiser] for veterinarian expenses," she said. "So the show must go on. It's just going to be different."

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.