By Vanessa Murdock

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Stand-ins for Santa Claus have been harder to come by this year.

And with more in-person events, the demand has been high, CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock reported Wednesday.

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Stephen Arnold of Memphis, Tennessee is Santa’s stand-in when he has too much on his plate.

“It’s a very busy season,” Arnold said.

Arnold is also the president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, or IBRBS, confirms it.

“Yes, there is a shortage of Santas, mostly driven by substantially increased demand,” he said.

Last year, Arnold made only 30% of his usual visits, and for those he stayed in a snow globe for safety. This year, all in-person events are back, and the snow globe stays home.

“It started out that we were filling this event. It was great. And then we noticed we were going to have a shortage,” said Mitch Allen.

Allen, founder and head elf at HireSanta.com, shares demand for Santa visits are up over 100% compared to 2019.

“People were not able to get with their friends, families and loved ones last year due to COVID. This year, they are making up for lost time,” Allen said.

Meanwhile, Santa availability is down by 10%.

“COVID’s been particularly rough on the Santa Claus community,” Allen said.

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Age and comorbidities work against the jolly old men. Allen shares sadly, more than 350 Santa Claus entertainers passed away due to COVID and other causes.

“Normally, we would be losing 80, maybe 100,” Arnold said.

And many Santas worry about exposure and opt to stay home.

Not Howard Graham, though. He’s another one of Santa’s go-to stand-ins and an IBRB member. Despite being hospitalized with COVID last year, he won’t stop spreading Christmas cheer. He’s now vaccinated and busy, but sorely misses his annual gig.

“Radio City, to me, is my home,” Graham said.

For years, Graham has greeted the young and not so young within the halls of Radio City Music Hall. For the past two, though, no Santa allowed due to COVID protocols.

“I love the people that are there, and I love the atmosphere,” Graham said. “And of course you can’t forget the Rockettes.”

As COVID cases climb across the country, Santas everywhere take more precautions.

“Over the past two weeks the guidelines have become tighter, people are requesting Santa wearing a mask or a face shield, and that was not the case two, three, four weeks ago,” Allen said.

Some Santas have caught COVID, but those Murdock spoke to assure us the big man, himself, remains healthy as an ox, and can’t wait to deliver presents to all on Christmas.

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Allen said requests for Santa are already rolling in for next year, earlier than ever.

Vanessa Murdock