SELINSGROVE — Santa Claus's arrival at the Susquehanna Valley Mall will be much quieter this year since the COVID-19 pandemic is shutting down the 42nd annual parade.
"It's heartbreaking to me, but the parade draws about 10,000 people and we just can't have that many people," said mall general manager Margie Deppen, who every year since 1978 has planned the holiday event that features seven marching bands, several Valley fire companies and old Saint Nick himself.
While the health pandemic has scuttled the holiday parade, the Salvation Army giving tree and gift wrapping for charity events at the mall this season, Deppen said they're trying to make it as festive as possible.
Santa will be at the mall in early December in a new holiday display that the staff has been building for the last two months that will allow for social distancing, she said.
"It's the first time since 1998 that we won't be using the big tree" in the indoor display, Deppen added.
Instead, a display with a storybook theme will be set up in the center court with Santa seated inside a specially-made snow globe behind Plexiglass. People will be able to have their photographs taken standing several feet in front of the jolly elf. There are also two other specially decorated backdrops in the mall designed for taking holiday photos.
"It should be quite spectacular," said Deppen, hesitating to divulge too much about the new display. "It's going to be a special exhibit. I hate to spoil it."
She credits Ed Grundy, assistant operations manager, Val Fisher, housekeeping supervisor, and the rest of the mall staff with creating most of the props.
Many of the ideas come from Deppen, who gets her design inspiration from social media.
"She gives us the ideas, and we make it happen," said Fisher.
She and Grundy have been spending most days building the exhibits out of cardboard, old signs and mannequins.
"It's a lot more work but it's a refreshing new idea," said Grundy.
The staff has also designed their own windowfront for the holiday season.
Fisher said they're working diligently to get the entire display set up by Nov. 24.