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Calgary Santas vow no lumps of coal as city stares down economic Grinch – Calgary Herald

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Santa, whose elf name is Michael Shepherd, poses in Calgary, Alta on Friday December 16, 2016. Jim Wells//Postmedia


A quarter-century after his first gig as a Calgary Santa, Michael Shepherd says the city’s economic doldrums haven’t dulled the twinkle in his eyes.

But they have made him adapt to a fiscal reality that’s played Grinch with some of his bigger jobs.

“There was one company with a $1,000 gig and one with a $500 or $600 one — and those are gone,” said Shepherd.

“There are layoffs and not so many kids, but there are some places that have doubled their (Santa) hours.”

The veteran St. Nick said he’s remained busy this holiday season, a dozen years after he left the shopping mall throne to do corporate and other party appearances.

But the nature of some of those jobs has changed.

If companies once had an adult Christmas party and another for their children that both demanded a Santa, “most places have gone just with the kids’,” said Shepherd.

Magicians, he said, are doing worse.

But if one of the city’s few dozen professional jolly old elves are short a few jobs, their red-suited colleagues will come sleighing to the rescue as part of a Santa support network, said Shepherd.

“I’ve turned gigs over to them . . . we all have to work together, we have to,” he said, adding he personally knows 10 other local Santas.

“There’s no need of a union.”

But some things never change, said Shepherd, who’ll join adults in their holiday merriment when the time is right.

When that moment arrives, he’ll peel off his red suit to spare it drink and food spills, and avoid dry-cleaning bills, in favour of underlying Kris Kringle apparel.

“For Kris Kringle, it’s just a puffy shirt, it doesn’t take long to clean,” he said.

The dean of Calgary’s Santa School also said its graduates have had to adapt to lumps of economic coal.

“While we might once have done a lot of corporate things, maybe (there are) more mall things instead,” said Jennifer Andrews.

“Some of our corporate customers are out of business, but if people aren’t paying top dollars, (Santas) are still finding a way to do it.”

Overall, bookings remain numerous, though the Santas have noticed some of the gifts at functions “aren’t as big as they always were, but there are still presents,” said Andrews.

Over the past 10 years, the Santa School has trained hundreds of red-clad mirth-makers while finding its grads bookings, she said.

Some of them have gone on to spread joy in places as far flung as Malaysia, Hong Kong and Sweden.

Calgary’s slumping economy, she said, has only bolstered the number of enrollees at the school.

“These are people that have been laid off or packaged out, and this is something they were definitely interested in pursuing but never had the time,” said Andrews.

Among those doing Santa on the side are an ex-RCMP officer, military vets, a judge, a physiotherapist and a lawyer, she said.

A laid-off oil and gas worker is “an excellent Santa, it’s his whole paycheque,” said Andrews.

No matter what happens to the economy, there’ll always be a place for Santas, catering to both adults and younger true believers, said Shepherd.

“I’ll do this until I die,” he said.

Said Andrews: “You speak to the needs of what they are now — you evolve, you always want to keep the magic alive.”

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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Economy

Canadian retail sales slide in April, May as COVID-19 shutdown bites

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december retail sales

Canadian retail sales plunged in April and May, as shops and other businesses were shuttered amid a third wave of COVID-19 infections, Statistics Canada data showed on Wednesday.

Retail trade fell 5.7% in April, the sharpest decline in a year, missing analyst forecasts of a 5.0% drop. In a preliminary estimate, Statscan said May retail sales likely fell by 3.2% as store closures dragged on.

“April showers brought no May flowers for Canadian retailers this year,” Royce Mendes, senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets, said in a note.

Statscan said that 5.0% of retailers were closed at some point in April. The average length of the closure was one day, it said, citing respondent feedback.

Sales decreased in nine of the 11 subsectors, while core sales, which exclude gasoline stations and motor vehicles, were down 7.6% in April.

Clothing and accessory store sales fell 28.6%, with sales at building material and garden equipment stores falling for the first time in nine months, by 10.4%.

“These results continue to suggest that the Bank of Canada is too optimistic on the growth outlook for the second quarter, even if there is a solid rebound occurring now in June,” Mendes said.

The central bank said in April that it expects Canada’s economy to grow 6.5% in 2021 and signaled interest rates could begin to rise in the second half of 2022.

The Canadian dollar held on to earlier gains after the data, trading up 0.3% at 1.2271 to the greenback, or 81.49 U.S. cents.

(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa, additional reporting by Fergal Smith in Toronto, editing by Alexander Smith)

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Canadian dollar notches a 6-day high

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Canadian dollar

The Canadian dollar strengthened for a third day against its U.S. counterpart on Wednesday, as oil prices rose and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell reassured markets that the central bank is not rushing to hike rates.

Markets were rattled last week when the Fed shifted to more hawkish guidance. But Powell on Tuesday said the economic recovery required more time before any tapering of stimulus and higher borrowing costs are appropriate, helping Wall Street recoup last week’s decline.

Canada is a major producer of commodities, including oil, so its economy is highly geared to the economic cycle.

Brent crude rose above $75 a barrel, reaching its highest since late 2018, after an industry report on U.S. crude inventories reinforced views of a tightening market as travel picks up in Europe and North America.

The Canadian dollar was trading 0.3% higher at 1.2271 to the greenback, or 81.49 U.S. cents, after touching its strongest level since last Thursday at 1.2265.

The currency also gained ground on Monday and Tuesday, clawing back some of its decline from last week.

Canadian retail sales fell by 5.7% in April from March as provincial governments put in place restrictions to tackle a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada said. A flash estimate showed sales down 3.2% in May.

Still, the Bank of Canada expects consumer spending to lead a strong rebound in the domestic economy as vaccinations climb and containment measures ease.

Canadian government bond yields were mixed across a steeper curve, with the 10-year up nearly 1 basis point at 1.416%. Last Friday, it touched a 3-1/2-month low at 1.364%.

(Reporting by Fergal Smith; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Economy

Toronto Stock Exchange higher at open as energy stocks gain

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Toronto Stock Exchange edged higher at open on Wednesday as heavyweight energy stocks advanced, while data showing a plunge in domestic retail sales in April and May capped the gains.

* At 9:30 a.m. ET (13:30 GMT), the Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index was up 16.77 points, or 0.08%, at 20,217.42.

(Reporting by Amal S in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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