From virtual visits with Santa Claus to contactless, in-person photos with Saint Nick, San Diego malls are innovating to spread a little holiday cheer albeit the coronavirus pandemic – and drive traffic to its retail partners.
Brookfield Properties, the Chicago-based company that owns and operates The Shoppes at Carlsbad, Chula Vista Center and Otay Ranch Town Center, began planning its holiday program last spring. The focus, said Carol Jacobs, vice president of asset management, is to maintain traditions while keeping customers safe and, hopefully, enticing folks to shop.
“Normally, we celebrate the holidays at all three San Diego properties with holiday décor, hosting different events, and always have a Santa experience at each one of the locations,” said Jacobs. “Really not knowing where we would be come the holidays, we wanted to create opportunities all our customers feel comfortable with. So, we do have a Santa at all the properties, as usual. But we’ve taken a lot of care to make sure to social distance through the use of décor like wrapped gift boxes that keep Santa six feet away from families.”
‘Malls Very Much Alive’
Jacobs said the malls are also hosting Zoom calls with Santa, which can be reserved on the Brookfield website. The calls are customizable, she said, with customers able to choose the ethnicity of Santa as well as provide children’s names for the video chat. This, she said, was created with a more reserved customer in mind who isn’t as keen on a live Santa photo op yet.
The virtual calls and the live photoshoots will run through Dec. 24, said Jacobs.
“I think, obviously, it’s been a difficult year for everybody, every industry out there,” she said. “We feel hopeful with the vaccine coming. With that said, malls are very much alive and well. Part of the key is to continue to look at properties and keep them relevant by redeveloping them. We plan to continue to do that into the new year.”
Nino Rodriguez, vice president of shopping center management at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, said now more than ever, San Diegans need a little holiday cheer and magic.
“We truly believe that now more than ever, people really need to celebrate the holidays,” said Rodriguez. “In addition, we feel a great responsibility to continually serve our local communities and, whether that’s giving back or creating memorable experiences for families and loved ones to partake in, we wanted to still find ways to bring safe holiday magic and wonder to our guests so that everyone has something to enjoy this holiday season.”
Normally, Westfield, with four shopping centers in San Diego (Westfield UTC, Westfield Mission Valley, Westfield North County and Westfield Plaza Bonita) kicks off its holiday season with “Winter Nights” throughout the month of December at UTC. This includes live musical performances, festive entertainment, family-friendly activities and tasty bites for all to enjoy.
The locations also typically offer a few different Santa experiences, said Rodriguez. like “Santa Paws,” which are family photos with four-legged family members; “Operation Santa Salute”, a day dedicated to veterans, active duty service members and their families to receive complimentary photos with Santa; “Sensory Friendly Santa”, for guests with special needs children; and “Santa’s Workshop”, where mall goers can enjoy Santa as well as crafts, music and photos.
There is also a Hanukkah celebration that entails various Menorah lightings at all the centers, he said.
Re-Imagined Santa Experience
This year, all four centers have a “Re-Imagined Santa Experience,” which will encourage social distancing while preserving the keepsake photo moment, Rodriguez said. They also offer an “AR Holiday Hunt”, an immersive, augmented reality scavenger hunt. Westfield UTC will feature a life-size “Snow Globe Collection”; “The Grinch’s Grotto”, an imaginative take on holiday photo shoots just as it is depicted in the story book and fitting for the home of Dr. Seuss; and the annual Menorah Lighting will feature a take-home Hanukkah Celebration kit instead.
Elsewhere, Westfield Mission Valley is hosting a “Holiday Village” with 10 photo-worthy backdrops; and “The Pinery Tree Lot”, which is mandating the wearing of masks, social distancing and capacity limits.
Artificial Snow Fall
One Paseo, which opened in March 2019 in Carmel Valley, has also followed suit for the festive season this year.
The center is decked out in holiday lights and features artificial snow fall every weekend, said Brian Lewis, senior vice president of marketing brand and retail at Kilroy Realty, owners and operators of One Paseo. There are elves and other characters parading throughout, he said, as well as health ambassadors who walk around handing out sanitizer and face masks. Additionally, there are al-fresco photo opportunities near a decorative pick-up truck as well as by a well-lit Christmas tree, said Lewis, all while holiday music is playing through the speakers.
“The atmosphere is very festive,” he said, “and we hope to spread a lot of positivity.”