Saturday, December 6, 2003

Kids paged for turn on Santa's knee

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Jackson House, 8 months old, tugs Santa's beard during a visit to Florence Mall.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
FLORENCE - For many, standing in a long line with whiny, fidgety children for the annual Santa photo has become a holiday tradition unto itself.

Time-pressed families, take heart.

Santa is paging you.

This holiday season, Florence Mall has joined an increasing number of retailers handing out Santa pagers during peak times. Customers receive a black pager that glows red when they're 30 minutes away from their visit with Santa.

"Too many kids go from nice to naughty while waiting in line for Santa," said Kirk Ballard of General Growth Properties Inc., owner of the Florence Mall.

After a trial run last Christmas at three retail centers with high Santa traffic, the Chicago-based mall owner opted to hand out pagers at 31 of its 166 malls this year.

"Some of our malls have long waits for Santa on Saturdays in December," Ballard said. "It's like a found 21/2 to 3 hours for parents who'd normally be waiting in line with their kids."

On weekends and just before Christmas, it's not unusual for children from throughout the region to wait more than two hours at Florence Mall to meet with Santa, said Windy Robinson, the mall's marketing coordinator.

"Most of the malls rolled the pagers out this past weekend," Ballard said. "So far, our customers have given them rave reviews."

Parents visiting the Florence Mall last week gave the pager idea a thumbs-up.

"I think the paging system's a great idea," said Burlington resident Julie Bender, mother of 21/2-year-old Brianna and 3-month-old Madison. "Last year, we came to see Santa, and the line was all the way across the mall."

Florence resident Nathan Forman agreed. "When you have long lines, everybody's in a bad mood by the time they get to see Santa," said the father of 7-year-old Savannah and 3-year-old Olivia.

At Kenwood Towne Centre, also owned by General Growth Properties, management has monitored use of Santa pagers elsewhere, but probably wouldn't try them soon, said David Casper, senior marketing manager. He said his mall's Santa seekers rarely wait long.

So far, Florence Mall is the only Tristate retail center using the pagers. But marketing officials at some Greater Cincinnati malls are monitoring Florence's experience to see if their Santa's helpers also should go high tech in the future.

Beverly Dunn, marketing director for Tower Place Mall in downtown Cincinnati, described the pagers as "an interesting concept." There, Santa's visitors amuse themselves during their wait by watching mechanical bears playing music beneath Carew Tower's 25-foot Christmas tree.

To avoid long lines, mall managers advise visiting St. Nick early in the season and on weekdays, especially before noon.


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