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Santas are in short supply across the country

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you have small children, you might want to turn this next story down. We have some news about Santa Claus and why it may be difficult to find him this year. The demand for a visit with old Saint Nick is high, but there's a shrinking supply of Santas available to listen to people who want to share their Christmas dreams. Elizabeth Gabriel of member station WFYI reports.

ELIZABETH GABRIEL, BYLINE: It's a familiar holiday scene at the Indiana State Museum - people lined up to see Santa, a chance to tell them what they would like for Christmas or to get a picture with old Saint Nick.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Can I have a Lambo?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Can I have one of your reindeers?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: Can I have a million dollars?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #4: I want a brother.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #5: I want a sister.

GABRIEL: Ty Stover, with his full real beard and snazzy embroidered holiday vest, says he's heard it all. He's been on the job for roughly 30 years and has been delighted to see some returning visitors.

TY STOVER: Right before the pandemic, I had the delight of holding the baby of a baby that I held, which is pretty cool.

GABRIEL: The COVID-19 pandemic shut down Santa-related events early on. The Red Suit Survey conducted regularly by the National Santa - and yes, there is a National Santa - found nearly 20% of Kris Kringles didn't work in 2020 because of social distancing requirements and health concerns. Now, two years later, demand for Santa is way up, says Mitch Allen. He's the founder and head elf of hiresanta.com, one of the companies that makes sure Santa Claus is on hand at events and parties.

MITCH ALLEN: We've seen demand up over 30% from last year. And it's up over 120% from pre-pandemic levels. So there's absolutely huge demand this year for Santa Claus and other types of holiday entertainment.

GABRIEL: And that also includes a call for diverse Santas too. Josiah McCruiston is Black, and he has been a Santa for six years.

JOSIAH MCCRUISTON: The season is for everyone. So if I can be as magical as I can for my white kids, my Hispanic kids and my Black kids, just all kids, I can bring magic to them in a way that I think not a lot of people really can.

GABRIEL: And McCroostin says he'll be busy until just before Christmas Day. According to the Red Suit Survey, the salary for Old Saint Nick is at least $100 an hour if they aren't working at a mall, where they may earn much less. So while the pay may be good, Mitch Allen says there just aren't enough Kris Kringles around.

ALLEN: Industrywide, there are over 2,000 sort of open positions for Santa, Mrs. Claus, helpers, elves, everybody in this seasonal industry.

GABRIEL: But the increase in demand might not be the only culprit. And Ty Stover says age and health issues may also play a part in the shortage.

STOVER: In most cases, you're talking to guys who are 70-plus. And they're not as spry as they once were. So I think most all Santas, especially the ones who are serious about it and real, are going to want to Santa until they can't Santa anymore.

GABRIEL: And Stover, who gets ready for his next guest, says that's exactly the way he wants it to be.

STOVER: Nice to meet you all.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #6: Nice to meet you, Santa.

STOVER: Merry Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Merry Christmas.

GABRIEL: Families can still see Santa, but there might be longer lines and a longer wait. There are already efforts underway across the country to recruit and train more Kris Kringles so there's enough Santas to meet the demand in 2023. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Gabriel in Indianapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Gabriel is KLCC Public Radio Foundation Reporting Fellow. She does stories on diversity, equity and inclusion.