Recession or not, Santa's still coming to town

Tue Sep 30, 2008 9:58am EDT
 
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By Nick Carey

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Drop Santa at your peril. America's retailers face the prospect of a grim festive season as a toxic cocktail of high gas and food prices, the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression and financial turmoil on Wall Street look set to hurt holiday sales.

But despite -- and many argue because of -- the depressing litany of news on everything from foreclosures to wrangling over a whopping $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, there is one item retailers dare not cut from their holiday lineup even if they're looking to trim costs: Santa Claus.

"If any mall or department store in this country were to say they were not going to have Santa it would be suicide," said Susen Mesco, president of Denver-based event planning company American Events. "No matter what other sacrifices they have to make, parents will take their kids to see Santa."

Mesco and others in the Santa hiring industry say business is brisk, with demand for portly gentlemen with white beards and red suits on the rise for department stores, and corporate and private parties alike.

"We are going to have Santas everywhere where we had them last year and more places besides," Mesco said.

A heightened demand for Santas comes as no surprise to some industry experts, who say that with weak holiday sales predicted retailers will try to use Saint Nick to attract as many consumers as possible with gimmicks such as free photos of their offspring with Santa -- which are usually quite pricey.

"It's clear that this year there's not going to be enough to go round for retailers," said John Challenger, chief executive of outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. "There will be a real free-for-all to get hold of those limited (consumer) dollars."

"Santas -- especially convincing Santas with a long track record of working well with children -- will be in high demand," he added.   Continued...

 
<p>A tourist has her picture taken with Santa Claus at a shopping mall in Hong Kong December 16, 2004. REUTERS/Kin Cheung</p>