An Okanagan mall Santa who was fired from his job for posting what the shopping centre considered “inappropriate photos” online has been gifted new gigs in the community.
Gary Haupt, 69, was turfed as the mall Santa at Cherry Lane Shopping Centre in Penticton, B.C., on Nov. 28, days before his contract was to take effect.
Haupt said the mall received a complaint after he posted two naughty photos to Facebook, depicting him in his personally-owned Santa suit reaching for a friend’s breasts and pretending to drink from a flask.
The community was outraged by Santa’s firing, and since the story broke, Haupt said he’s added eight to 10 new Santa appearances to his busy Christmas schedule.
“I don’t know why, other than people know I do a really good job with children,” he said on Sunday.
“I’m the guy who has to wear his hat to the store so people know who I am. I don’t think a day goes by that somebody doesn’t come up and shake my hand or tell me ‘thank you’ or ‘good for you,’ or ‘my kids love you.'”
The woman in the first photo, Haupt’s friend Michelle Prystay, is an esthetician who was over at Haupt’s home to paint his wife’s nails. Prystay said she consented to the cheeky photo, which was meant to get a laugh.
The second photo with the metal flask was snapped at the request of a Christmas market patron, also meant to be a humorous image.
While both of the events were not connected to the mall, Haupt said he was warned by mall management the year prior after obliging to a request from a woman asking the Santa stand-in to pretend to spank her at the mall display.
The Cherry Lane Shopping Centre did not return repeated requests for comment.
Haupt said the incident only resulted in one appearance cancellation, at a Friday night market hosted at Parkway Elementary School. He said he received a letter from the PAC noting the appearance “would not happen.”
Meanwhile, some small businesses are capitalizing on Haupt’s popularity as people line up to snap a photo with the Kris Kringle stand-in.
“Busy Beans yesterday was crazy. I have a daycare I’m going to in West Kelowna. They extended it from one hour to three hours, just a huge response. Lucky Pets, the Elks yesterday, Black Antler is coming up.”
Haupt said while he is grateful for the new opportunities, he charges $50 an hour and won’t earn enough to cover the losses of the lucrative three-week mall contract where he was to receive $5,000.
“I have heard nothing from the mall, and nor would I expect to, this is legal stuff now,” he said.
“I will have to consider my options,” he said when asked if he will pursue legal action.
Haupt said he doesn’t have any regrets about posting the cheeky photographs to social media.
“Those pictures are not going to change anything about me,” he said.
“People have to know, something they say or do, an employer could take exception to that and either discipline them, or hire them or fire them, and then they have to be prepared to fight that.”