In the bowels of the Eaton Centre, two Sally Ann workers positioned at opposite ends of the mall watch throngs of shoppers hurry by, few seeming to notice their lonely presence. Their kettles are almost empty. But something other than money is missing — the distinctive Christmas bell sound.
Under a directive issued over eight years ago by owner-operator Cadillac Fairview, the Salvation Army is not permitted to bring bells into the Eaton Centre because of noise complaints from mall tenants.
The directive affecting the Salvation Army has only come to light now. And Cadillac Fairview has been bombarded with angry emails. “We’re getting hate mail and people saying they won’t shop here. Holy cow,” said Cadillac spokesman Brian O’Hoski.
Another Cadillac property, Fairview Mall, does in fact allow bells to be rung by the Salvation Army for their annual Fill the Kettle charity campaign, contrary to earlier reports, said general manager Kevin Gray.
At the Eaton Centre, O’Hoski said is he trying to reach out to the Salvation Army to discuss the matter, but wouldn’t go so far as to say Cadillac Fairview would make a change in policy.
In a statement, the Eaton Centre said, “The bells are not needed to draw attention to the kettles as they are a very successful fund-raising campaign at the Toronto Eaton Centre.”
However, members of the Salvation Army say the reinstatement of the bells would help their cause.
Capt. John Murray says the policy has handicapped the efforts to reach their goal of $3 million — an all-time high in Toronto due to a 20 per cent increase in demand for social assistance.
“For us, the ringing of the bells is advertising,” he said. “It’s also part of Christmas and the tradition. ... For us, that bell being rung at Christmastime is symbolic of the Salvation Army being there.”
Other shopping mall operators are watching with interest because they were shocked to read about the Cadillac Fairview policy, according to Jai Lee, marketing director for the Scarborough Town Centre.
“Absolutely we allow them,” said Lee. “It’s a sleigh bell, not a fog horn.”