The schedule on Lord and Taylor's Boylston St. entrance says the store opens at 10 a.m. But this and every morning a janitor unlocks the doors and lets shoppers inside 15 minutes early. Just within the lobby, a waitress serves coffee from a portable cart and invites customers to relax on folding chairs nearby.
Courtesy coffee for employees and early arrivals is a Lord and Taylor ritual borrowed from its New York branch. But 40 years after the tradition began, the store is serving the regular with a twist.
The upbeat Al Stewart tune on the public address system is cut off in mid-chorus; drums roll, and "The Star Spangles Banner" swells in its place. The slightly bewildered shoppers rise from their seats. Some giggle nervously, some slouch, most stand at attention.
The management treats this patriotic interlude, prompted by the Iranian hostage situation, with the utmost seriousness. Charles Nedder, vice president for Lord and Taylor's New England stores, recently explained the practice thus: "We decided to add the anthem as a reaffirmation of our faith in America. We feel this is particularly valid in Boston, which, after all, is the genesis of liberty and democracy in America." He added that all 34 stores in the chain will play the national an them daily until the hostages are released.
The shoppers, knowing none of this, remain silent and still until the music fades. Chimes signal the start of the business day, and holiday carols lilt over the sound system. Women who have finished their coffee and turned to the turtlnecks and ties dart toward other departments. And the waitress wheels the cart away.