When perusing the streets of St Andrews, you’ll hardly be surprised by the businesses you see. There are restaurants offering various cuisines (some open very late to cater to the drunken 3 am wandering students, among whom I have counted myself many a time), coffee shops that never seem to stop appearing, and clothing stores for students, locals, and tourists alike. What might seem more surprising, however, is the small shop that sits on Market Street with two large nutcrackers in front of it. Aptly named the Nutcracker Christmas Shop, it is a fairly new addition to the town that offers a variety of Christmas-related products. With such specific theming, combined with the fact that it is open for the entirety of the year, one can only wonder: who is it for? And does St. Andrews really need it?
As it turns out, at least in regards to the second question, St. Andrews students would answer an emphatic “no”. Among those who took part in a survey I conducted via a Google Form posted to my personal Instagram story, a startling 89.8% of respondents (97.4% of whom are current students) believe the shop is unnecessary. While some might choose to take that as a sign of the student body resoundingly disliking the shop and actively wanting it gone, taking a deeper look at the data reveals that this assumption is not exactly accurate.
To break it down further, 43.6% of respondents both believe the shop is not needed and would prefer if the location had something else, with one respondent going so far as to suggest that the shop is merely a “slightly more charming version of Justin Timberlake’s wanky cinema sports bar”. Among suggested possible alternatives was a takeaway place that offers a selection not available elsewhere in town (e.g. Mexican food), a board games café, a cheap craft/art supply shop, the world”s smallest Wagamama (tied for my personal favourite with the board games café), and, of course, a Wetherspoons. One respondent tellingly said that they”d prefer the spot be taken up by “anything actually useful”, adding that it is “embarrassing” that a shop that sells “overpriced decorations” can afford to be open for the entire year.
Despite this clearly pervasive negative sentiment, 46.2% of respondents, while still finding the shop unnecessary, don”t mind its presence in the town. One person surveyed said that they were once a self-proclaimed “Christmas shop scrooge” but have come around since going inside and saw that there was “actually a lot of cute stuff”. Another respondent wrote that while it is “essentially a tourist shop”, it does have a certain “whimsy” to it and has “something unique to offer”. Strangely, this demographic was also full of conspiracists, suggesting that the Christmas shop is some sort of “front” and questioning how “legit” it is. This led me to speculate whether a) St. Andrews students are fond of money laundering or b) they find the idea of a money laundering establishment in town entertaining. Much to think about…
Throughout some of these responses, mainly among those who selected the most negative possible options for each question, there is a sinister undercurrent about the working conditions of the shop. As a potent example of this, one respondent told a story about how they applied to work at the shop over the summer and were accepted for a trial shift, which ended up being 5 hours long (and unpaid, as both this respondent and another made clear) and resulting in them being “left alone to run the whole shop floor” at multiple points because the wife of the manager was “getting lunch or in the back”. This respondent went on to describe the behaviour of this woman as “rude” (and another word that I am omitting here but you can probably guess), with the respondent often asking for help and clarification and being met with a response suggesting that they needed to “pay attention” and that this was “the real world and not school anymore”. After this unfortunate ordeal, the respondent emailed and called their way up the chain of command, only to be “ghosted” and (of course) remain unpaid, all the while the “hiring sign remained up”.
Disclaimer: I cannot fully vouch for this one as an anonymous survey so please take it with a massive grain of salt as it is almost too bad to be true… But another anonymous respondent even claimed that their friend had a “heavy ornament” thrown at her head by the boss. Needless to say, this all paints a very negative picture of the business from the students’ point of view and raises questions not just about its necessity but of its right to be in the town at all.
Despite all of this baggage, overall opinion of the shop remains divided. 48.7% of respondents feel some degree of negativity about the shop, while 51.3% of respondents felt either neutral or positive towards it (although among this percentage only 22.8% felt specifically positive).
With a new Christmas shop just beginning to open at the time of writing, it will be interesting to see how the opinions of the student body and locals begin to change. Will people get tired of the overwhelming amount of Christmas paraphernalia available and begin to complain?
Or will the opponents of the shops stop being Grinches and realise that the shop is, according to one respondent, “necessary to the morale of the town”? Only time will tell. For now, it seems that at least for this year, Christmas has come early… and is here to stay.