Harrods at Christmastime is usually a fairytale experience. The glittering London department store has offered scores of visitors access to its iconic Christmas, where kids can meet Santa Claus and parents can buy toys and ornaments, for generations. But this year, the iconic department store has decided to use the spirit of the season to make a little more green.
For the first time since its introduction in 1955, the Chrismas Grotto will have its access restricted to patrons who’ve spent a minimum of £2,000 (about $2,568 at the time of publication) in the store, according to a report from The Guardian.
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Visits with Father Christmas begin this Friday, 4,400 scheduled in all broken into 10-minute time slots. Responding to understandable outrage from long-time patrons, Harrods has agreed to allow 160 families who didn’t meet its spending target to gain a spot. Those of normal means will comprise a paltry 3.6 percent of those who will get to enjoy the grotto’s holiday cheer.
One customer, James Browne, made the visit a tradition for 15 years but sees Harrods’ new policy as Grinch-like. “They have lost the true meaning of Christmas and given into the commercialization of the season,” he said in an interview with The Guardian. “Visiting Father Christmas shouldn’t be reserved for those that are fortunate enough to frequent the store and spend thousands of pounds.”
The move seems especially greedy as the retailer collected a healthy £171 million in profit last year and the business is poised to collect a minimum of £84,800 from this year’s grotto alone—tickets cost £20 per child. That, coupled with its ownership by the immensely wealthy royal family of Qatar, has meant Harrods has struggled to offer a satisfactory explanation to those who can’t bring their kids to see St. Nick. “We care hugely about making a visit to the Grotto as magical as possible, and tickets are extremely limited due to the number of slots we can facilitate in-store,” a Harrods spokeswoman said. “Unfortunately, we simply cannot meet the demand for places.”
It’s an odd argument considering these Christmas festivities are far from new and, though demand has always been high, the retailer has somehow managed over the past 63 years. Plus, it might not have the best impact in the long run.
“A visit to Father Christmas at a magical shop like Harrods should be for all,” said Browne, who works as a marketing director. “I think the owners need to have a long hard look at the longer-term impact on their business for the thousands of children who won’t grow up with a fond feeling for the store.”