It didn’t take long for the public relations people who run Tyson’s Corner Center to realize they screwed up royally:
Tysons Corner Center officials apologized yesterday for leaving Santa Claus out in the cold this holiday season.
Responding to hundreds of calls, an online petition and threats to boycott the mall for giving its longtime Santa the heave-ho with little notice, a spokeswoman said company officials were working with Michael Graham to reach a financial settlement and find a chair for him in a Santaland — somewhere.
“We offer a deep apology to Mr. Graham and to our shoppers,” said Allison Fischer, a spokeswoman for Macerich, which operates the mall. “We hope that Mr. Graham, our shoppers and everyone across the country who has been affected by this situation will understand.”
It was not clear whether there was a possibility that Graham could continue working at the Fairfax County mall, where his special touch created a following that transformed the Tennessee carpenter into a local celebrity.
But Pamela Deese, an attorney for Graham’s pro bono case, said last night that no one has directly apologized to her client and that no arrangements have been made.
“I’m happy to try to broker a deal,” Deese said. “Let’s do something that would be a win-win situation for both.”
News that the mall had given Graham a pink slip after 18 years generated an outcry.
“That’s a devastating move they’ve done over at Tysons Corner Center,” said Pat Chambers, whose daughter surrendered her pacifier to Santa when the time arrived to give it up. “We bring him cookies every year. There’s no way I can go back there if it’s another Santa.”
People whose families went every year to see him called the mall, burned up e-mail group lists with commentary and threatened to boycott the shopping center. CBS News booked a TV appearance for this morning, a radio station in Green Bay, Wis., ran the story and SantasForHire.com, an online booking agency for Santa’s helpers, wanted to track down Graham to offer him a job. Graham, with the help of a publicist and Deese, has arranged a news conference on a public sidewalk next to the mall after his television appearance.
“We’re taking our lumps, and we know we made an error,” Fischer said. She said officials had erred in handling the timing of the notification to Graham and were working to correct the situation by a financial arrangement and an offer of employment somewhere.
This is turning into a text-book example of how not to handle a problem.