Is Santa Claus Coming to Town? Mall Santas Are Losing Gigs in Pandemic

In a year like no other, even Santa Claus may find himself out of work.

A visit to the mall to sit on the jolly old elf’s lap may be yet another tradition knocked to the wayside by COVID-19, as wary parents keep their children home. And while that’s bad news for kids, it may be worse news for all those Santas who count on gigs at department stores and office Christmas bashes to earn extra cash – or, in some cases, a big chunk of their annual income.

Mike Hadrych exchanged his jacket and tie for a red Santa suit more than a decade ago, after he retired and began to spend the early days of winter listening to kids’ wish lists.

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He’s made up to 70 appearances during a single year. But as he prepares for the first holiday season since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Hadrych says his phone is barely ringing.

“I normally have 20 to 30 bookings, and right now I have two,” said Hadrych, 72, who lives with his family in Canoga Park, California. “So I expect it to be really, really slow …There’s just a lot of unknowns right now.”

Though many retailers and organizations are still finalizing plans, it currently looks like in-person Santa bookings will be down “anywhere from 25% to 40%” this holiday season, says Mitch Allen, founder of HireSanta.com, which taps a database of roughly 2,000 entertainers to place Santa Claus at events and venues worldwide.

A mall Santa with “a real beard, real belly, real laugh,” can make anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000 working through November and December, Allen says. For many Santa Claus entertainers who are on a fixed income, that extra cash is crucial.

Often, “these gentlemen are retired … and so this loss of income will be substantial,” Allen says. “They’ve talked to me about how this is going to be a really tough season because of that.”

Other Santas work as storytellers or perform different characters for audiences year round. But those roles largely disappeared because of shutdowns caused by COVID-19, making this holiday season even more critical for them to make ends meet.

Hadrych is among those who have earned more than $10,000 playing St. Nick, typically starting in November and finishing up his rounds in early January…  USA Today