Safeway Inc. yesterday said that for the first time, it will open many of its supermarkets on Christmas Day, a move that triggered an angry protest from the union representing the grocer's Washington area employees.
Safeway will become the region's first -- and only -- major supermarket chain to operate stores on Christmas, one of the last holidays observed by U.S. grocers, which now routinely open on Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
Safeway will be the only major area grocery chain open on Dec. 25.
Giant Food, Shoppers Food Warehouse, Food Lion, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Harris Teeter will all be closed on Dec. 25. But union officials and grocery workers predict Safeway's decision will prompt competitors to reevaluate that decision, if not this year, then in 2005.
Roughly half of Safeway's 100 Washington area stores -- and some in other markets around the country -- will be open on Christmas Day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The chain has not yet identified which stores will be open.
Until now, Safeway has operated only a handful of stores on Christmas Day, in busy resort towns such as Vail, Colo.
"We think our customers will appreciate having their local Safeway open to service their needs," said the supermarket's spokesman, Greg TenEyck. TenEyck noted that Safeway has customers and workers who do not celebrate Christmas.
TenEyck said the chain will not require employees to work on Christmas but has instead asked them well in advance to volunteer. Those who work on the holiday will be paid up to three times their normal hourly wage.
TenEyck said the Christmas Day supermarket openings "have proved very successful in other parts of the country."
But Jim Lowthers, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents Safeway employees in the Washington area, called the plan "heartless."
"Our members are outraged that the company is opening on Christmas," he said. "This is a day that employees should spend with their families."