For many, Christmas Eveís the time to ensure itís ham for the holidays

Article from the Christmas Day 1997 Washington Times

By Sean Scully and Walden Siew


What would prompt hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people to spend Christmas Eve waiting in line along Franconia Road?

Beanie Babies? Sing-and-Snore Ernies? Free money?

No. Ham.

"I do everything early except for this," said Michele Wright, 40, an insurance claims processor who was waiting in an endless line outside the HoneyBaked Ham Co. yesterday for the last-minute holi-day ham.

Hundreds of people packed the store and wound around the building. Dozens of workers scrambled to fill orders. Private security guards kept order, preventing too many people from packing the lobby. Drivers prowled the nearby neighborhood restlessly, looking for a scarce parking space.

"I'm trained to be patient," said Nancy Carr, 58, a Federal Emer-gency Management Agency worker, as she eyed the line. "Working disasters you learn to be patient."

At the Heavenly Ham store in Laurel, store owner David Blake, 37, said they've been swamped.

"We've only got about four hours of sleep," said Mr. Blake, whose store has been open about a year. "We've gone through 2,000 hams over the last three days."

Customers said they wait in line happily, even if it might be cheaper and faster to cook the hams them-selves. They said the store-cooked and sliced ham is worth every minute of the wait.

"The ham's just not the same" anywhere else, said Traci Gillespie, 22, a pizza delivery driver who had traveled all the way from Woodbridge to stand in line at the Franconia Road HoneyBaked Ham store.

"It's different," she said, shrugging as she struggled to it into words.

"It's fresh," said HoneyBaked Ham manager Brooks Dietrich, eyeing the crowd with evident pride.

Mr. Blake said the hams are popular because, "They're good. They taste good, and people don't have time to cook anymore. All you do is serve it. I think that's the main reason it's so popular."

Mr. Dietrich said it gets crazy every Christmas at all eight of the area stores. It gets a little crazy around Easter and Thanksgiving as well. How many hams do they sell?

"Lots and lots and lots and lots," said Mr. Dietrich, shaking his head.

Around the side of the store more employees waited by a huge truck trailer, the distribution point for corporate customers who order dozens or hundreds of hams to give as gifts.

On Tuesday morning, HoneyBaked Ham assistant manager Chris Gallo said, the truck was packed with 1,600 hams and baked turkeys. By yesterday afternoon, even after a few reloadings, only a few dozen boxes lingered in the truck.

"We're just glad its not raining or snowing," said Rodney Williams, 18, a seasonal employee try-ing to keep warm by the corporate truck.

But despite all the people packing into the store, the line moved fairly quickly.

Wes Clark, a Springfield engineer, set his stopwatch when he joined the line, fearing the wait might be an hour or more. But 23 minutes later, he found himself at the head of the outside line, waiting to be allowed into the store.