Haroon Hussain, owner of seven Costcutter stores across London, ensures he's prepared for last-minute Christmas dashes by opening on Christmas Day. "We operate normal trading hours on Christmas and New Year's Day because that's when people come in for top-up shops," he explains.

Haroon ensures that everyone gets into the festive spirit by encouraging his staff to dress up, but he's careful not to start celebrating too soon. "People often complain that shops start pushing Christmas too early, so staff don't get dressed up until a couple of weeks before Christmas."

He decorates the store with tinsel and this year Haroon is planning to put up a Christmas tree with a heap of sweets underneath to give away.

There'll also be plenty of Christmas classics playing, too, courtesy of the stores' sound systems: "We play Costcutter radio, so customers can listen to festive Cliff Richard in the background."

But even though he's doing his best to create a little Christmas cheer, he fears the current economic climate will hit sales. "Last year we did well - during Christmas week we saw a 20% rise in sales," he says, "but with the credit crunch we've seen a downturn in sales of luxury products."

To counteract this, Haroon will be stocking more economy options and fewer premium products. "We'll take this approach with chocolate, snacks and meat," he says.

However, Haroon is convinced that the traditional turkey dinner is here to stay. "Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a turkey, so although customers may buy a lower grade of bird, I don't think they'll be buying chicken instead!"

Vic Grewal is certain that customers will be happy to shell out for traditional favourites at his Budgens store in Chorleywood. Hertfordshire. "Our Christmas homebaking products, such as mincemeat in a jar, always sell, and port goes down well, too," he says.

Vic goes out of his way to create a merry atmosphere and likes to treat the store's younger visitors. "Last year we had a chocolate fountain with marshmallows and strawberries," he says. "We'll do it again this year because the kids love it, even though it makes a bit of a mess."

Last year Vic also got a member

of staff to dress up as Santa. He greeted customers as they came in and collected money for charity.

"It's essential to get shoppers in the Christmas mood," he says, "so we put up lights and a tree and offer wine tasting, but now we've also got tasters from our new deli to offer them," he says.

The year before last, the store had a post box for children to send letters to Santa, and Budgens sent them a reply. "We may run that again this year," says Vic. He's also considering setting up a Santa's grotto in the corner of the store.

Vic believes that c-store sales may actually benefit from the gloomy news about the economy. "I think many people will think 'To hell with it - let's have a good Christmas!' and they'll go out of their way to make it really special."

Christmas 2008 will be something of a challenge for Angie Stevenson and Sharon Butler of Best-one in Newquay, as it's their first spent in retail. But, say the pair, they plan to get off to a flying start by opening from 7am until noon in order to cope with the Christmas Day rush.

And what do they expect to be the most popular item on the day? Batteries, for sure, and last-minute food shopping.

Says Angie. "There's so much to buy for Christmas that it's inevitable that something will be forgotten. If our customers know that they can pick up a packet of stuffing or batteries for the children's present, they'll be under less pressure."

They'll also be following Santa's lead and offering free home deliveries to their elderly customers during the winter months.

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