FOR the first time since 1996, no Co-op food stores in the UK will be open on Christmas Day this year.
Previously, the former West Midlands Co-op opened a small number of convenience stores on December 25 and, last year, the society said that over 4,500 customers had taken the opportunity to buy items such as batteries, milk, soft drinks and Christmas crackers.
However 2004 sales at 12 c-stores stayed at the same level as in 2003 when 16 shops traded for a few hours. At its peak in 2002, the society operated 22 stores on Christmas Day – in all cases staffed by volunteer workers who received a bonus for their shift.
But now, following the recent merger between West Midlands and Oxford, Swindon & Gloucester Society to form Midcounties Co-operative, the new society has decided to close all stores on Christmas Day.
Bill Laird, Chief Operating Officer, Retail, for Midcounties Co-op, told the News: "Following the merger, we have reviewed the trend of opening a limited number of convenience stores on Christmas Day.
"After considering the commercial benefits we have decided not to do so this year and hope that our colleagues enjoy the break after working hard during the busy run-up to Christmas. Several of our stores will, however, open as usual on Boxing Day and New Year's Day."
Although the Co-operative Group opened a number of stores on Christmas Day 2000 as a trial, the experiment was never repeated and the Midcounties' decision brings the society into line with the rest of the Movement.
The Midcounties announcement was warmly welcomed by Sharon Ainsworth, Usdaw's Co-op National Officer, who said the move was in tune with the Movement's values and principles and was proof that the society is moving with the times.
She added: "It's excellent news and will be welcomed by all the staff, who can now enjoy Christmas Day with their families."
Movement-wide festive season opening arrangements were not available as this edition of the News went to press, but – once again – staff employed by the Edinburgh-based Scotmid Co-op have come out tops in the time off stakes as all of the society's stores in Scotland will be closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and again on January 1 and 2.