You’d think Harrods would know better.
In 1849, a man named Harrod took advantage of London’s planned Great Exhibition to take over a small shop in the vicinity to sell medicines, perfumes, stationery, fruit and vegetables. The shop rapidly expanded, acquired adjoining buildings, and by 1881 was employing 100 staff.
In 1883, the store burned to the ground but Harrod still fulfilled all his Christmas deliveries making a record profit in the process. A new building went up on the same site and soon Harrod’s was opening its doors to the rich and titled, including members of the Royal Family.
Owned today by Qatar Holdings, the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar, Harrods seems to have forgotten its motto of Omnia Omnibus Ubique (“Everything for everyone everywhere”). It decided to restrict access to Father Christmas and his grotto to customers who have spent at least £2,000 in the shop. Not surprisingly, the peasants revolted and the store was obliged to change its mind, but only to the extent of allowing in 160 lower-spending families.
Last year, Harrods made a profit of £171m. Tickets to see Father Christmas cost £20 per child. Over the Christmas period, Harrods will collect a minimum of £84,800 from the traditional grotto if each family has only one child. More children increases the takings. Obviously, the cost to Harrods’ reputation of excluding the less well-off was not factored into anyone’s thinking.
Maybe they don’t read A Christmas Carol in Qatar, but one wonders what Charles Dickens would have said about the meanness of spirit behind the decision.
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”