British Columbia

'Not here for the profit': Vancouver's Kingsgate Mall offers Santa on a budget

Vancouver's Kingsgate Mall has a Santa photo operation that manages to keep the cost to just a fraction of that at many other malls.

'Our Santa isn't the fancy, fancy one, but he loves kids,' says Kingsgate Mall manager Leyda Molnar

Santa Claus will be at Kingsgate Mall until Dec. 24, 2019. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

A Santa set is a fixture at any self-respecting North American mall when Christmas nears, and Vancouver's Kingsgate Mall is no different. But at Kingsgate, a photo with Santa comes at a fraction of the price many other malls offer.

Last year, a photo cost $6.50 at the Kingsgate Santa Land, compared with between $20 and $35 at other Vancouver malls. This season, the price rose to $7, according to mall manager Leyda Molner.

That will get you a five-inch by seven inch photo taken on an iPad — printed quickly while you wait — and presented in a paper card.

When CBC News stopped by Kingsgate's Santa set on Thursday, the printer had malfunctioned, and people were being invited to sit with Santa Claus and have a photo taken on their cell phones for free. In fact, they're always allowed to take their own cell phone photos or cameras.

Even the Kingsgate Santa himself acknowledges there's a discount aura to this Santa Land.

"I think it's more of a budget Santa, because, considering what they're charging now for photographs," said the Kingsgate Santa, who is serving his fifth year at the mall.

"I think it's good."

"I like to see the children, because you see how they react to Santa Claus. Some people are very shy," says the Kingsgate Santa Claus. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

But Molner, the mall manager, doesn't think of the Kingsgate Santa as budget. She just doesn't want to go with the commercial operations other malls provide. 

"It's a family mall," she said of Kingsgate, which leases the land in Mount Pleasant from the Vancouver School Board.

"Our Santa isn't the fancy, fancy one, but he loves kids," said Molner.

Kingsgate holds a special place in the hearts of many Vancouverites. It's not a big mall, but it has the honour of having a satirical Twitter account with more than 8,500 followers. That account sings the praises of the Mount Pleasant landmark, and pokes fun at its discount clothing stores and dreary vibe.

The Kingsgate security team is kept busy, with two chases through the concourse in the hour or so CBC News was on site. Shoplifting incidents are up this year, according to Molner.

But the jolly Christmas spirit continued unabated at Santa Land at the centre of the mall. 

"I like to see the children, because you see how they react to Santa Claus. Some people are very shy," said the Kingsgate Santa. "I try to give them candy canes."

"A long time ago I used to be shy. I'm the opposite now," he said.

Andrea Shelford, who lives in East Vancouver, stopped by with her family to meet Santa on Thursday. This was the third year Shelford had brought her five-year-old twin son and daughter there.

Twins Grace and James, 5, are pictured with Santa Claus in Kingsgate Mall, Vancouver. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"We never have to worry about waiting too long, and Santa gives the kids lots of one-on-one attention," she said. "They also allow us to take photos on our own cameras and devices, which is really nice."

Her daughter Grace was excited to ask Santa to bring her a robot unicorn — and eat candy canes.

Molner said Santa's wage comes out of a merchants fund, and the photo fee goes straight to the company that takes and prints the photos.

Brian Panjaitan is the person doing that this year. He happily took photos on guests phones while his printer was out of commission.

The Kingsgate Santa wanders around mall handing out candy canes during a lull in demand for photos Thursday afternoon. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"Personally I don't think it is a budget Santa," said Panjaitan, standing among the large gingerbread, lollipop and candy cane props surrounding Santa's chair.

"It's still the same experience — it's just cheaper."


Do you have more to add to this story? Email rafferty.baker@cbc.ca

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

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