Bill Atkinson, The Progress-Index
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Plans have yet to be officially announced, but the owners of Southpark Mall say they are hoping to keep as much normalcy as possible pertaining to holiday shopping under the specter of COVID-19 — and that includes visits with Santa Claus.
Here's a possible hint: If the jolly old elf is able to show up in person to see the kiddos, it probably will be later in the shopping season than in years past.
Distance protocols spawned by last March's onset of the virus across Virginia forced Southpark Mall here to cancel photo opportunities with the Easter Bunny. Six months into the pandemic, state health officials expect it to still be around toward Christmas. That means the annual tradition of children sitting on Santa's lap and sharing their gift wishes with him might have to be tweaked somewhat.
Stacey Keating, a spokeswoman for Southpark owner CBL Properties, said Wednesday they are close to finalizing their Christmas plans. That includes the photo opps with Santa, which are handled by a third-party vendor.
"Our goal will be to bring the magic of the holiday season to life within the shopping center while following all applicable governmental orders or mandates and keeping the health and safety of our customers and employees top of mind," Keating wrote in an email.
A decision is expected no later than the first part of October.
CBL is not ruling out a complete cancellation of the Santa experience, however. Keating said when Santa does make an appearance, as he has done in all of the 30-plus years the mall has been open, it probably will be later than the typical early- to mid-November timetable.
For the past several years, Santa has set up shop in space near the former Sears store.