Santa Claus returning to the Rideau Centre as retailers hope for brighter holiday season

Shoppers are starting their holiday shopping early this year. Retail experts predict the season will be close to pre-pandemic levels. (Leah Larocque/CTV News Ottawa)

Ottawa malls are gearing up for a busy holiday shopping season.

CF Rideau Centre General Manager Brian O’Hoski says the shopping season may not be 100 per cent back to normal during the second Christmas season of the pandemic, but it will be close.

"There is a built-up anticipation, there is some excitement. Overall, our retailers are feeling good," said O'Hoski.

"We are starting to get back to some level of normal, we are seeing traffic pick up, we are seeing increased activity with sales, and shoppers. This is a great time, and everyone is excited for the holidays."

Starting Nov. 22, Rideau Centre will have extended hours for shoppers. Santa Claus will also return for in-person visits starting Nov. 19. Visits need to be pre-booked and visitors 12 and older will be required to show proof of vaccination.

"We are still going to offer virtual story telling for those who still don’t feel comfortable," said O’Hoski.

The Retail Council of Canada says there has already been an uptick in holiday sales. Dianne Brisebois is the President and CEO, "All indications so far are encouraging, the consumers are out shopping in malls, in store fronts right across the country. We have seen in Ontario a real lift in traffic especially in the last couple of weeks- so it is positive."

"At this time last year, there were a lot of closures," Brisebois says. "The holiday season is crucial for retailers this year …Our retailers in malls are starting to smile more."

One area seeing an increase this season is in apparel.

Brisebois says retailers are still concerned about supply.

"Supply chain challenges are top of mind for retailers," she says. "No question, our retailers have told us in some categories they were concerned they would run out or not get some of the products they were hoping to put on shelves."

Brisebois is encouraging consumers to do their shopping early to avoid shortages and big crowds.

"So consumers can find what they want and do it in a safe environment," said Brisebois.

"Go with a list, go with a budget, and be patient and kind, and a have a good time- we are finally able to do our holiday shopping."