As a child growing up in Tallahassee, I remember riding down the city's biggest thoroughfare one Christmas morning and finding it completely empty.
Litter swirled in the wind like tumbleweeds in an abandoned old West town. Every business was closed, and there was hardly a car on the road. We needed batteries for a Hess truck that Santa had left under the tree, but we were out of luck.
I would imagine State Road 60 had a similar feel back in the day, save for Waffle House and maybe a Chinese restaurant for people looking to relive A Christmas Story dinner.
Now, between Walgreens, Winn-Dixie and a handful of local businesses, it's not so hard to find establishments that open on Christmas Day.
Whatever happened to those tranquil holiday mornings?
Most of the businesses I spoke to say they're meeting the needs of customers, and they planned to do so with the same holiday joy your kids will display opening gifts.
Brandon Hometown Buffet partner Howie Vo became downright giddy when discussing Christmas plans to open his restaurant from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Vo opened his latest restaurant two months ago in the old Village Inn spot on Brandon Boulevard.
He sees Christmas as a good time to introduce his buffet style to new customers, especially when you consider his similarly styled buffet restaurant in Bradenton draws 800 to 900 customers on Christmas Day.
"They're not a lot of places open, so I think it will be a real benefit," Vo said. "After opening presents, some people don't want to cook."
Diners will find traditional buffet items as well as sirloin steak, fried catfish, fried clams and crab cakes. They also will find happy servers, said Vo, in part because he pays double-time.
"It's fine," server Lisa Rodriguez said. "I'll get up early and open presents with my kids, and then come to work. I'll only have to work half a day."
Dan Lefurge, manager of the Winn-Dixie on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Seffner, expressed a similar sentiment. His store will open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. largely because he had no problems finding employees willing to work on Christmas.
"We wouldn't open if we didn't have people volunteering to work the day," said Lefurge, who said Winn-Dixie has opened on the holiday for at least the past six years. "We put up the sign-up sheet two weeks before Christmas. It usually takes a week or a week-and-a-half for the list to fill up.
"This year it filled up on the first day."
Call it a sign of the times. The extra pay proves enticing, and the fact that both Publix and Sweetbay will be closed means those workers will earn their keep. Lefurge said even with Sweetbay open on Christmas last year, business bustled at his store.
Customers like to come in for last-minute items they may have forgotten, Lefurge said. They have the ham, but forgot the glaze. They have the pumpkin pie, but forgot the whip cream. Traveling families who don't want to show up at dinner empty-handed also like to stop.
Ditto for Walgreens, which says it opens to benefit customers as well as make money. Illness doesn't take a holiday, and with toys, small electronics and fragrances (Jean Naté, anyone?) it also serves last-minute gift shoppers.
In the final assessment, you might argue we lose a sense of holiday tradition with some stores operating as business as usual. But perhaps those folks willing to spend at least part of the day away from family should be lauded for helping the rest of us out.
After all, I did need some batteries last year. And some dinner rolls.
That's all I'm saying.