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It’s Only September, but Santa is Nervous about Coming to Town

And he is not worried about whether kids are naughty or nice, as much as he is about the chance that taking photos with them on his lap at a local mall could expose him to the coronavirus.

“Santas are concerned about catching it, especially considering they’re immunocompromised,” said Stephen Arnold, a Memphis resident and president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, a trade group with nearly 2,300 members. “Almost all of us have diabetes and heart conditions and are overweight and elderly.”

Mr. Arnold’s Santas are not the only ones thinking about how different the holidays will be at malls and department stores this year. Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping calendar, is still more than two months away, but retailers pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic have already been making decisions about inventory, staffing and how best to connect with customers skittish about visiting crowded stores during a pandemic. The result will be a 2020 season that is transformed in fundamental ways — and unlikely to make up for the severe drops in revenue caused by the shutdowns.

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In August, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales in the United States rose 1.2 percent in July, the third straight month of growth. But the increase slowed noticeably from June, and the way Americans are shopping has changed significantly. Customers have moved online in greater numbers, hoping to avoid crowds at stores, and retailers are already adjusting their holiday plans accordingly.

Rather than enticing shoppers into stores with holiday sales events, retailers like Walmart and Target recently said they would try to temper the crowds by closing on Thanksgiving Day and putting their best deals online earlier than usual. Instead of conversing with browsing shoppers, many store workers will be spending their time handing off purchases to people who pull up to the curb in their car. And the holiday windows and light shows common to department stores in cities across the country will probably feel muted with a diminished amount of foot traffic.

“I do think it’s going to be a holiday season unlike any holiday season we’ve seen before given social distancing and masks and everything else,” Chip Bergh, chief executive of Levi Strauss & Company, said. There’s “the combination of pandemic, which won’t be gone by this Christmas, and the economic fallout from it, which, who knows how bad it’s going to be by then?”

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With the national unemployment rate at 10.2 percent, an estimated 30 million Americans are relying on unemployment benefits and many people’s ability to spend money on gifts for the holidays will largely depend on whether new aid is made available…  The New York Times

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