Open on Christmas Day

More restaurants, groceries to ring up sales on holiday

December 22, 2007|By Sara Murray | Sara Murray,Sun reporter

It used to be that opening for business on Christmas Day was considered taboo.

But now more coffee shops, grocery stores and restaurants open their doors for customers who need a last-minute item, prefer not to cook or don't celebrate the holiday. And while some workers grumble about working that day, more companies are deciding there's a demand that needs to be met.

"Based on our sales at the stores, we've found it's certainly worth our while," said Greg TenEyck, director of public affairs for Safeway Inc.'s Eastern division. "Customers really appreciate the convenience of going out and getting last-minute things."

Safeway will open many of its 77 stores in Maryland on Christmas - it began opening on Christmas Day three years ago. Giant Food, the area's largest grocery chain, opened 37 stores here last year and will open 33 this Christmas, said Jamie Miller, Giant's public affairs manager.

"Company A always knows what Company B is doing," said Harry Manley Jr., services department manager for United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 27, which represents both Giant and Safeway employees. "They want to keep up with the Joneses."

M&S Grill in Harborplace on Pratt Street, which markets itself as a 365-day-a-year operation, expects to draw 800 to 900 guests on Christmas Day, said Chipp Lewis, the restaurant's manager.

That number is similar to a Friday or Saturday night at the grill, and double the weekday average.

"I do think it's becoming more popular" at upscale restaurants, Lewis said. "It generates a lot of revenue for companies that are open."

Jimmy's Famous Seafood on Holabird Avenue has drawn its own Christmas crowd - a mix of families and regulars - since it opened in 1974.

"It's pretty much just families that come in that don't feel like cooking," said Tony Minidakis, one of the owners. "Usually for the holidays the rush comes early. You know, people coming after church."

But Christmas Day offerings have expanded. Starbucks Corp. opened some stores on Christmas for the first time last year. This year, two dozen will be open in Maryland.

Breathe books LLC on 36th Street will host its fourth annual party on Christmas, opening its doors to customers.

"I never even considered not being open because I'm Jewish, and I have nothing else to do," said owner Susan Weis. "You sit home and you're forced to watch television, like the Christmas parades and the football. ... I hate all that stuff."

Breathe books opened in 2004, and the holiday crowd has steadily grown from about 15 patrons the first year up to about 40 last year, Weis said.

"A byproduct of all of this is that people do shop, and every year I make more," she said.

Robin Jacobs, who is also Jewish, is a regular customer and former employee at the Hampden store. She attends the party every year.

"You kind of feel like there is something you should do, and you're left out," Jacobs said. "I think there's people who don't have family or don't like the whole Christmas [scene] ... so it gives them some time to connect."

Several movie theaters and Chinese restaurants have long opened their doors on Christmas Day and at one time provided some of the few commercial options for those who don't celebrate the holiday.

"It's an opportunity to spend time together and not have to talk to each other," said Tom Kiefaber, who owns The Senator Theatre in Baltimore. "Sometimes over an extended holiday you've pretty much talked about everything."

While the progression to open more businesses is convenient for some customers, not everyone is thrilled with the shift.

"I still think it's a sacred day that you shouldn't be open, but that's my personal opinion," said Buddy Mays, president of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 27.

Both Safeway and Giant have a policy that only employees who volunteer will be put on the schedule. Restaurant managers said employees typically don't mind the Christmas shift because they often make good tips.

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