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Holiday Hints

Holiday Hints Sections

Green Expectations

Nicole Sweeney

Nicole Sweeney says new offerings like Gifted Tones Paint and Music Lounge will keep shoppers engaged during holiday-season visits to Eastfield Mall.

Carolyn Edwards is surrounded by dozens of stores on a daily basis, so she tends to do her holiday shopping late in December.

But this year, she purchased two Christmas gifts in mid-October and joined the growing ranks of consumers on an early quest to find the perfect gift for everyone on their list.

“It’s not something I normally do, but sales inspired me to start shopping early,” said the general manager of Lee Premium Outlets.

Tempting gift items also spurred Nicole Sweeney to start shopping well in advance of Christmas, and by Halloween she had a pile of holiday gifts sitting on her desk.

“I don’t wait until Black Friday to shop, but I have never done it this early before,” said the marketing manager at Eastfield Mall in Springfield, noting that purchasing things over a period of several months helps to mitigate the sticker shock that many people face at Christmas.

National surveys show that two in 10 shoppers began their annual quest for the perfect present in early October, and big-box stores put Halloween and Christmas decorations and merchandise on display at about the same time.

“Black Friday preview sales were started early to get people’s appetites going for the holiday spending that leads up to the day after Thanksgiving [Black Friday]. But that day is not like it used to be,” Sweeney said.

Indeed, retailers have already begun to cash in on the final quarter of the year, and the forecast for the season is green. The International Council of Shopping Centers has predicted a 3.5% increase in holiday shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, compared to the 2.2% gain last year; the National Retail Foundation (NRF) expects retail sales in November and December (excluding autos, gas, and restaurants) to increase a solid 3.6% to $655.8 billion; and Deloitte predicts holiday spending to increase between 3.6% and 4% from November through January, topping $1 trillion.

Although online shopping is on the rise and cuts into the pockets of mom-and-pop operations that don’t have websites with free shipping, PwC’s 2016 Retail and Consumer Holiday Outlook survey notes that almost 75% of consumers plan to shop locally, 56% will seek independent retailers, and consumers with annual household incomes less than $50,000 will increase their spending more than consumers overall.

List of Companies Offering Corporate Gifts

In addition, more people will have cash to spend because retailers have hired, or are planning to hire, between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal workers, in line with last year’s 675,300 holiday positions.

Gifts are expected to run the gamut from toys to clothing, and high-tech items such as tablets, phones, and gaming devices are expected to be popular, but many people will choose their own presents after the holidays, because gift cards are expected to make up 32% of purchases.

“The stores had their holiday décor in place by the end of October, and the day after Halloween, we went into the holiday season full force,” Edwards said, echoing other retail spokespeople who said Christmas music began playing Nov. 1 and the sound of cash registers humming added to the spirit of the shopping season.

New Attractions

Lisa Wray says the unofficial kickoff for the holiday season at Holyoke Mall was Veterans Day weekend.

“Santa arrived Nov. 12 in a fire truck escorted by the Holyoke Fire Department, and we were ready for the people here to do their holiday shopping,” said the marketing director for Holyoke and Hampshire malls.

Lisa Wray

Lisa Wray says Holyoke Mall’s holiday sales should be in line with national projections, but foot traffic should get a boost from several new stores.

She expects sales to be in line with the NRF’s predictions, but expects foot traffic to get a boost, because Holyoke Mall has added eight new stores in the last seven months.

They include Zales Jewelers, a cell-phone accessory and repair shop called Shatter and Case, a women’s plus-size clothing store called Torrid, a newly remodeled Bath & Body Works and White Barn Candle, a Touch of Beauty Nails & Spa, Sprint, CilantroMex restaurant, and Billy Beez, an indoor play park with a jungle theme featuring fun that ranges from bouncing to jumping, sliding, climbing, and more.

Although people will not be camping out on Black Friday like they did years ago, Wray said, it’s still a significant day at Holyoke Mall; many large retailers will open their doors at 12:01 a.m. and people will be lined up to take advantage of promotions.

“Stores like Target, Sears, and Best Buy will all have doorbuster sales that are still a big draw,” said Wray, adding that Holyoke and Hampshire malls will open at 7 a.m.

All of this year’s holiday carts and kiosks at Eastfield Mall were in place Nov. 1, but Black Friday is not as big as it used to be, Sweeney told BusinessWest, adding that Eastfield also has new stores and venues, including a Bounce! Indoor Inflatable Park that opened earlier this fall and is already attracting families.

“My instinct is that places that offer experiences will have an edge this year, because that allows people to wrap in something festive with their shopping,” she said, explaining that parents can combine a trip to Bounce! and shopping in one visit; people can shop, then listen to live music at Donovan’s Pub or take in a movie before and after making purchases.

“Foot traffic is important because we have a lot of mom-and-pop stores. It’s getting easier and faster to shop online, so it’s become very competitive, but one-day preview sales generate a lot of excitement because they offer really good deals in advance of Black Friday,” Sweeney noted, explaining that special promotions will continue throughout the season to accommodate those who shop early, late, and anytime in between.

Other new ventures at Eastfield Mall include V-Stream Dreams, a store that sells an alternative to a TV cable box that allows people to get a multitude of channels with minimal or no lag time; and Gifted Tones Paint and Music Lounge, an art store where people can learn to paint alone or with friends.

Lee Premium Outlets also has new stores, including Kay Jewelers, Guess, a Toys R Us Express, and 10,000 Villages, which will be open only during the holiday season.

“Outlet centers are driven by promotions, and the stores here are offering really good sales. They are difficult to pass up, and folks are already taking advantage of them; they aren’t waiting for the snow to fly or for the week of Thanksgiving to get started on their shopping,” Edwards said, noting that handbags and accessories are always popular, and Michael Kors and Coach are good places to find these gifts.

She added that sales will be heavily promoted, and the right price point will inspire people to make purchases, which often include gifts for themselves.

Positive Signs

The fourth quarter of the year is a critical time for retailers, an obvious point that still needs to be stressed.

“The holiday season is so important to them that they can’t let a day go to waste,” Sweeney said.

Holyoke Mall expects to meet expectations forecast by the NRF and other retail groups, and the forecast is equally bright at Lee Premium Outlets.

“All of the early indicators this year are that we will meet or exceed last year’s sales. The numbers should come in for us,” Thomas said.

Which will indeed bring joy to local retailers who hope the sound of cash registers processing sales will continue to ring in a very merry Christmas.

Holiday Hints Sections

Perfect Presents

giftgivingartThe holiday season will soon be upon us, and choosing a gift for a business professional or customer that will make their life easier or provide a bright spot in their day can be a daunting, but ultimately satisfying, task.

Some want to keep pace with the latest technology, others appreciate anything that can provide them with comfort or add pleasure to their work day, while still others appreciate whimsy or a gift they can enjoy themselves or with others when their day is done.

BusinessWest has done its best to make your shopping easier by presenting ideas in a variety of price ranges sure to please a co-worker, frequent flyer, or anyone who spends a good deal of their life in the office. Some items can be found locally and support small businesses, while others are carried at a range of stores.

If none of these seems quite right, a gift certificate to an area store, restaurant, or theater venue is sure to be appreciated. And, last but not least, consider a gift to a charitable organization you know the person cares about and supports.

Prosperity Candle

Candles can make a scent-sational gift, and a small group of socially responsible female entrepreneurs at Prosperity Candle in Easthampton has a wide range of offerings designed to brighten things for everyone on your list.

Their candles are handmade to order with soy-blend wax, essential oils, and natural cotton and wood wicks, and can be purchased individually or in a gift box that contains local products.

Try Pioneer Valley Gift Box #1 with maple syrup from Florence and a candle scented with a blend of tobacco leaves, aged cedar, and a touch of spice ($34 at www.prosperitycandle.com).

Fitbit 2 Heart Rate and Fitness Band

fitbit-charge-2Many people make an annual New Year’s resolution to exercise more, and a Fitbit 2 Heart Rate and Fitness Band may be the ideal gift to help goal-oriented professionals meet with success.

The device contains a multitude of features that range from call, text, and calendar notifications to “Reminders to Move” that encourage wearers to take 250 steps every hour, and tracks steps taken, distance, calories burned, floors climbed, active minutes of exercise, and hourly activity, as well as how long and how well you sleep. The battery lasts up to five days without being recharged. Starts at $149.

Tre Olive Gift Box

tre1Anyone who likes to cook or enjoys a good salad will appreciate a gift of extra-virgin olive oil grown by members of the Falvo family in the Calabria region of Southern Italy. Tre Olive in East Longmeadow has individual bottles starting at $9.99, balsamic vinegars and spreads, beautiful gift boxed tins starting at $19.99, and olive-oil soaps flavored with lemongrass, fig, and other intriguing combinations.

There is also the ultimate gift: adopt an olive tree for a year, receive a photo of it, and look forward to the spring when its olives are pressed and you or your gift recipient will be sent some of the freshest oil imaginable. At www.treolive.com.

Nokia Treasure Tag

People who travel frequently often fear losing their laptop, luggage, and other necessary items. But this little tag with a standard watch battery life of six months can prevent that: it connects to smartphones that use Bluetooth 4, and if the traveler forgets an item, the tag beams. In addition, it allows you to search for missing items. Cost: $30.

Tea Guys

Many business professionals drink coffee throughout the day, but if you introduce them to award-winning tea brewed in small batches, they may thank you for years to come.

Tea Guys in Whately offers every type of tea imaginable with highly unusual blends and flavors such as chocolate raspberry and candied lemon. A box, gift package, or gift certificate is sure to soothe. At www.teaguys.com.

Natico Decision Maker and Paperweight

natico-decsion-makerBusiness involves daily decisions, but sometimes it’s not clear what to do. In these cases, it’s simple to alleviate stress — or just have a moment of fun — by pressing the button in the middle of the Natico decision maker and paperweight.

A solution will appear when it is done spinning, and your reaction may help determine what course to take. The paperweight can also serve as a conversation piece when someone enters your office. Cost: $17.50.

Herman Miller Aeron Desk Chair

aeron-chair_1Comfort is priceless, and spending hours behind a desk can lead to chronic back pain, but Herman Miller offers an almost foolproof solution with its classic Aeron desk chair.

The most well-known ergonomic office chair on the market incorporates the latest research around the science of sitting; fabric and foam are replaced with a breathable, woven suspension membrane, and ergonomic engineering allows the person’s weight to be distributed evenly to eliminate pressure points and heat buildup.

The chair reclines, and its PostureFit feature provides support at the base of the spine, where it is needed. Models start at $679 at Lexington Group Inc. in West Springfield.

Share Coffee Roasters

share-coffeeThere’s nothing to brighten up a day like getting a gift at work, and coffee lovers will be thrilled to find a delivery of freshly roasted gourmet coffee sent to them weekly by Share Coffee Roasters in Hadley. The first bag is free, and after that, weekly packages are sent for the length of time you choose and come in 6-, 12-, or 18-ounce packages.

The coffee is roasted and shipped the same day and is similar to fine wine, as it contains a medley of tastes. For example, Guatemalean Los Dos Socios has hints of dark chocolate, juicy citrus fruits, and praline. Prices start at $13 at www.sharecoffeeroasters.com.

Dragon Professional Individual, v15

dragon-professionalIf you know a small-business owner or executive who doesn’t have a secretary or complains frequently about carpal-tunnel pain, Dragon Professional Individual v15 voice-recognition software may usher in tidings of great joy. It can transcribe dictation or an audio interview three times faster than typing, and the person never needs to use their hands. In addition, simple voice commands can be used to edit documents or change formatting with up to 98% accuracy. Cost: $300.

Frigo Gourmet Foods Gift Basket

frigosbasket2016Food is always a welcome gift, and a gift basket from Frigo Gourmet Foods in Springfield can be shared at the office, taken to a party, or enjoyed at home. They come in a wide array of prices and styles, but their Old World Italian gift basket is sure to be a hit, with its irresistible mix of seasonal products such as panettone, amarettini cookies, biscotti, torreones, asiago, fontina, parmesan, provolone, salami, pepperoni, and casaling or sopressata meats. Cost: $125 at www.frigofoods.com.

Bose QuietComfort 35 Headphones

bose-headphonesHave a frequent flyer on your list? Someone who has trouble concentrating in a noisy workplace, or whose performance soars when listening to music their co-workers might not appreciate? Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones might suit their needs as they combine Bluetooth connectivity with the latest in noise-canceling technology, take a mere 15 minutes to charge, and have an unmatched battery life of 20 hours with a free app that makes switching between devices easy. Cost: $349.

Black Birch Vineyard

This family-owned Southampton vineyard offers award-winning wines created by hand in small, individually numbered batches. Choose from reisling, chardonnay, epic white, pinot noir, cabernet blanc, and more at $16 and up, or a beautiful gift basket that contains a bottle of wine, two glasses, and a wine-tasting gift certificate for two. Basket: $45 at www.blackbirchvineyards.com.

Clear Bubble Paperweight

paperweightThis clear bubble paperweight by the Museum Store at Wheaton Arts is handmade, so the color and size may vary if you purchase more than one, but it’s an unusual gift that is practical, decorative, and comes with a story card. Cost: $34 at www.wheatonarts.org.

Laurel Mountain Basket Co. Inc.

laurel-mountain-gift-basketThis Easthampton company creates unique gourmet gift baskets and believes that giving a gift basket “shouldn’t make you a basket case.”

Each basket is made when the order is placed, so give them a call at (413) 527-1243 to talk about their kosher, gluten-free, and specialty New England gift baskets overflowing with products that can be designed to suit every budget and palate. Visit www.laurelmtbasket.com.

Wireless Weather Station

People who love to know what it’s doing outside will delight in a desktop wireless weather station. Many models are available and range in price from about $50 to more than $500.

The AcuRite 01036 Pro Weather Station with PC Connect, 5-in-1 Weather Sensor, and My AcuRite Remote Monitoring App has great ratings; accurately measures the temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, and rain; and allows you to set up programmable weather alarms as well as e-mail and text alerts to notify you when conditions change or your presets are reached. Cost: $125.

Holiday Hints Sections

Beating the Crowds

Louis and Kathy White

Louis and Kathy White say holiday shopping started early at A.O. White, and they have boxes and bags filled with items that have been gift-wrapped and are waiting to be picked up.

’Tis the season to be shopping, and local retailers say consumers began their annual holiday shopping for friends, family, and loved ones — and themselves — right after Halloween.

“Shoppers aren’t waiting until the last minute anymore,” said Nicole Sweeney, marketing manager for Eastfield Mall, adding that it seems that people are buying a few things each week after they get their paycheck.

“The old metric of measuring sales from Black Friday to Christmas is no longer accurate, and retailers have responded to the growing trend of people shopping early. Old Navy has had a sale almost every day since late October, and most of the national chain stores offered pre-Black Friday sales,” she told BusinessWest.

Lisa Wray agrees. The marketing director for Holyoke and Hampshire malls said their unofficial season kickoff took place on Veterans’ Day, as many people had the day off. “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in traffic since then, and a lot of stores started holding sales early, rather than waiting for Black Friday,” she said.

Louis White of A.O. White in East Longmeadow believes shoppers may have been inspired by the fact that the big-box stores put up Christmas decorations in October and held pre-holiday promotions in October. “It’s one thing we can thank them for,” he said. “People have been buying gifts here for weeks, and we have boxes and bags filled with items that we gift-wrapped and are waiting to be picked up and taken home.”

Kathy White agreed. “We’re seeing a lot of positive energy, and I think it will be a good year for specialty stores because of the service we provide and the uniqueness of our merchandise,” said Louis’s wife and business partner. “People are looking for novelty this year more than ever.”

Indeed, all signs point toward a very healthy sales season. The National Retail Foundation (NRF) expects sales in November and December (excluding autos, gas, and restaurants) to total $630.5 billion, which equates to an increase of 3.7, significantly higher than the 10-year average of 2.5%. Average spending per person is expected to reach $805, and surveys show that nearly 57% of people celebrating the holidays started buying gifts in early November.

“The window between Thanksgiving and Christmas is shorter this year, so retailers are offering really good deals,” said Carolyn Edwards, general manager for Lee Premium Outlets. “Our sales have been very promotion-driven. They started before Black Friday and will continue throughout the holiday season.”

Catering to Customers

Joy Leavitt, who owns KiddlyWinks in Longmeadow, says the store held two special events long before Black Friday to kick off the holiday season. The children’s toy store sent 12,500 catalogs to customers on a mailing list and invited them to attend an Adult Shopping Night that included hors d’oeuvres and raffles. More than 100 guests showed up and enjoyed the evening; and it was followed by a Wake Up with KiddlyWinks morning that attracted 50 shoppers who received discounts and free gift wrapping, along with coffee and donuts.

Joy Leavitt

Joy Leavitt says the holiday season is off to a great start at Kiddly Winks, and the response to two November sales promotions was fantastic.

“Our store is ready to go, and the shelves are stacked to the top. We had a nice, brisk beginning to the season and are really thrilled that people chose to shop here,” Leavitt said. “We’re starting our 30th year in business, and children who once received gifts from us are now parents or grandparents buying toys for their children.”

Louis White said A.O. White also offered incentives to its good customers. “We want to reward them around the holidays, but we are not sales-driven,” he noted. “We have generations of people who have shopped here and we really like to think we are a destination for special things.”

Edwards said footwear and apparel account for a significant portion of the gifts purchased during the holiday season at Lee Premium Outlets. “And we are anticipating a large sale of gift cards. They’re always our number-one seller, and as we get closer to Christmas, we always see an uptick in demand for them,” she told BusinessWest, explaining that they make an ideal gift, as the shopping season doesn’t officially end until Jan. 1, and many people crowd stores the day after Christmas to take advantage of post-holiday sales.

Wray said electronics are expected to be the winner this year when it comes to gifts. “People are buying tablets, iPhones, and mobile devices. We don’t have the actual data yet for sales, but they seem to be the hot gifts.”

Although the NRF says Americans plan to do almost half of their holiday shopping online this year, and one in five will use a smartphone to purchase holiday merchandise, local retailers say the joy of holiday shopping is an experience that can’t be duplicated by ordering remotely.

“Every single business has been affected by online shopping; it has changed the world. But we hope people make some of their purchases at local businesses and family-owned stores. We are the tapestry of the community and are so appreciative of the business,” Leavitt said, adding that KiddlyWinks looks for the hottest and best toys for children from February until September in advance of the holiday season, and when people shop locally, the tax dollars stay in the community.

Edwards believes people often go online to find what they want to purchase and compare pricing. “But nothing compares to seeing something, trying it on, and feeling the merchandise, so I don’t think online shopping will ever replace the experience of shopping in a store,” she said, adding that, when people are buying for others in a retail store, they often purchase something for themselves.

Indeed, the NRF says 54% of shoppers treat themselves during the holiday season. “People often come in with a shopping list and leave with a few things for themselves,” Louis White noted.

Optimistic Predictions

Although it’s too early to determine exactly how much people will spend this holiday season, the owners of local stores have done all they can to attract the growing number of people shopping early, as well as those who wait until the last minute. Weather can affect business and prevent people from going to their stores, but it has been an unseasonably warm fall, and they are optimistic about the 2015 holiday season.

“We’re thrilled, energized, and excited about this season,” Leavitt said. “I can’t predict anything yet, but I have a feeling it will be a very, very positive year.”

Louis White concurred. “We are off to a good start at ground level,” he said. “We merchandised and planned for an increase in sales, and since our biggest nightmare is that we will run out of items, we continue to reorder until the week before Christmas.”

Edwards said last holiday season proved to be a very good one at Lee Premium Outlets, and this one looks equally bright. “We have had a very busy fall, and we expect the momentum to continue.”

And Wray expects stores in the Holyoke and Hampshire malls to meet the NRF’s prediction of an increase of 3.7%.

All of which should add up to a very merry season for retailers and shoppers beginning their annual quest to find the perfect gift for everyone on their list.

Holiday Hints Sections

’Tis the Season


Dave Ratner

Dave Ratner

The holidays are, as if we need reminding, a shopping extravaganza.

Between now and the beginning of the New Year, we will experience sensory overload. From repetitious TV commercials encouraging us to buy or lease a luxury sedan or SUV to the windows of local storefronts, with oversized letters (in red and green) spelling the words ‘XMAS SALE’ and ‘HUGE DISCOUNTS,’ these promotions — including the billboards, flyers, mailers, radio spots, and newspaper and magazine inserts — are everywhere we go.

As a retailer with long-standing roots in our community, and as someone who believes the holidays are not just another reason to buy stuff, allow me to offer the following advice to all business owners: give thanks to your respective customers. Take a moment to express your gratitude to them, so they know you appreciate their support and value their patronage.

Court your consumers, which is another way of saying, romance your customers by personalizing your service and making yourself more attentive to the needs and expectations of these men and women.

I write these words from experience — indeed, I am the author of a book about this very subject — because, by making these individuals the focus of what you do, there will be no confusion about why you do what you do. That is, without customers, a business cannot survive; it has no buyers for its merchandise, no audience for its marketing and communications, and, thus, no reason for being.

What, then, should businesses do this holiday season?

To start, they can use social media — Facebook and Twitter, with the latter linking to a specific post from the former — to publish a note of genuine appreciation.

Forget the customary posting of sentence fragments and links, the so-called clickbait responsible for attracting ‘likes’ and ‘followers,’ and choose, instead, to hand-write (and then transcribe for the web) a letter detailing why you cherish your customers. Tell them — tell us — why they inspire you, how they motivate you, and what they do for you.

In other words, choose quality and quantity over the glib and ordinary, which is to say, make it clear to the reader, and make it absolutely unambiguous to your customers, that their interests are your priority, that you welcome their e-mails and look forward to receiving their feedback and responding to their concerns.

If this advice seems obvious, and if these examples sound like basic common sense, they are. That does not mean businesses are aware of this fact, or that they uphold this rule, because they too often do not.

The holidays are, therefore, an opportunity to make amends, so to speak, and strengthen ties with consumers. They are a chance for customers to enjoy savings and discounts, but they are also a time for businesses to rejoice over what they have — and to whom they owe so much.

Remember, too, the people who are your greatest sources of word-of-mouth marketing and your most credible agents of action. Reward your customers with your thanks, and whatever else you can afford to give them. Your gratitude will not go unnoticed, and your deeds will not go unrecognized.

Do well by doing something good, so you may sell your goods to the customers who are your most passionate friends and your most vociferous allies.

Now, pass the eggnog and make a list, and check it twice, to find out who has been (and still is) nice.

Love your customers.


Dave Ratner is founder of Dave’s Soda and Pet City and a business author and speaker; daveratner.com

Holiday Hints Sections

Buying Local

It’s not always easy to find the perfect gift item for everyone on your list, but, thankfully, Western Mass. provides a plethora of options, from spa experiences to go-karts; from sporting events to concerts and museums; from art classes to a particularly unique landscaping service. Even better, all support local businesses and organizations and, in turn, boost the region’s economy. Happy holidays, and happy shopping!

Amherst Laser & Skin Care Center

264 North Pleasant St., Amherst

(413) 253-2214; amherstlaser.com

This state-of-the-art practice in downtown Amherst offers laser and aesthetic services ranging from facial and body rejuvenation to laser hair removal; from laser body sculpting to facials and peels, and much more. First-time consultations are complimentary. Promotions change on a regular basis, so check the website for prices and specials.


Black Birch Vineyard

155 Glendale Road, Southampton

(413) 527-0164; blackbirchvineyard.com

One of several wineries in Western Mass. that offer vineyard tours, Black Birch — whose owners call the vineyard “a family that moves wine and the nuanced process of creating it” — provides a number of gift-giving opportunities, from wine-tasting events to enrollment in a wine club that includes 12 seasonal bottles throughout the year at a 15% discount. Visit the website for more information on events and available wines.


Blue Heron Restaurant

Blue Heron Restaurant

Blue Heron Restaurant and Catering

112 North Main St.., Sunderland

(413) 665-2102; www.blueherondining.com

For a truly special night out, send someone to the center of Sunderland, to the historic, 150-year-old building that houses the Blue Heron, where Deborah Snow and Barbara White serve up an eclectic, seasonal menu based on fresh, local, sustainable ingredients. The food is a reflection of Snow’s grandmother’s teachings: “eat fresh and eat the season, and all of it with love.” Gift certificates aere available online.


Cap & Hitch of New England

2001 Riverdale St., West Springfield

(413) 73304178; capandhitch.com

Have a friend who loves his vehicle and is looking for ways to improve his ride? Whether you’re looking to upgrade a factory stereo, add Bluetooth hands-free integration, add an alarm system, or have a full stereo system installed, Cap & Hitch of New England has you covered. The store also offers heated seats, bike racks, snow plows, hitch accessories, tonneau covers, and much more.


Cathy Cross Fashion for Women

151 Main St., Northampton

(413) 585-9398; cathycrossfashion.com

Cathy Cross is a Northampton shop that offers fashion-forward designs as well as timeless classics, with options ranging from jeans to power-suiting, lots of dresses, casual and contemporary wear, and constantly rotating seasonal collections that focus on the current trends. Gift cards are available in any demonination, and can be purchased at the store or online.


Symphony Hall

Symphony Hall

CityStage/Symphony Hall

One Columbus Center, Springfield

34 Court St. Springfield

(413) 788-7033; symphonyhall.com

There’s always plenty of variety at Springfield’s premiere entertainment venues, which features, this season, “Moondance – the Ultimate Van Morrison Tribute Concert,” “Sing Along with the Muppet Movie,” “Best of Boston Comedy Festival: Italian Comedians,” “Yesterday and Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience,” “Adam Trent: The Futurist,” and much, much more. Visit the website for a full calendar and to purchase gift cards.


Gateway City Arts

Gateway City Arts

Gateway City Arts

92 Race St., Holyoke

(413) 650-2670; gatewaycityarts.com

Conveniently located in the heart of Holyoke’s Arts and Innovation District, and host to a plethora of studios, galleries, and event spaces, Gateway City Arts a co-working space for artists and creatives in a variety of disciplines. Among its many programs, the center offers art classes for the casual creator and the professional artist. Check online for the latest offerings, and give someone the gift of inspiration.


The Goat Girls

(413) 461-6832; thegoatgirls.com

The Goat Girls is the Valley’s best and newest solution to invasive plants, like multiflora rose and bittersweet, and irritants like poison ivy and sumac. Goats are delivered to the property to be cleared for several days or weeks. Agile, hardy, yet lightfooted, they can get to hard-to-reach parts of your property and gently, yet quickly, clear unwanted brush. Gift certificates are available online.



801 Williams St., Longmeadow

(413) 567-0688; kiddlywinks.com

KiddlyWinks takes pride in its selection of award-winning and hard-to-find, unique toys for children of all ages. The focus is on children’s toys that inspire as well as entertain, including a wide selection of arts and crafts toys for kids of all ages, from preschool through teens. Check out the website for staff recommendations, lists of award-winning toys, and to place orders online. Free shipping on all orders over $100.





[email protected]; petsimpl.com

Millions of pets are lost each year, and microchips are helpful only if your pet is found and scanned. Even if found, fewer than 50% of pets with microchips are returned to their owners. With its innovative pet-tracking product, called Pip, PetSimpl raises the bar in terms of quality, comfort, and ease of use. Pip is smaller than other trackers and attaches comfortably to your pet’s collar. Order the product and a subscription plan online.


Pioneer Valley Balloons

130 Cross Path Road, Northampton

(413) 218-7823; pioneervalleyballoons.org

Pioneer Valley Balloons has been providing hot air balloon rides for people of all ages for more than 25 years — an experience guaranteed to create memories that will last a lifetime. Choose from a sunrise or sunset excursion on a balloon manned by owner and chief pilot Lisa Fusco. The cost is $250 for a group excursion, $700 for a private ride for two, and specials are occasionally available. Gift certificates may be purchased online.


Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting

Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting

Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting

10 West St., West Hatfield

(413) 446-7845; pioneervalleykarting.com

A 23,000-square-foot track offers an area where karts can reach speeds up to 40 mph. The 1,000-foot road course challenges the most experienced drivers through seven left turns and four rights. Every race is timed down to .001 of a second, and each driver will receive a time sheet after their race to compare. Kids 8 and older can ride as well as adults. Purchase special race packages and gift certificates online.


Refresh Whitening Spa

16 Gerrard Ave., East Longmeadow

(413) 732-6281; emadental.com

Emirzian, Mariano & Associates, a general, esthetic, and prosthodontics dental office, now offers a new concept in teeth whitening and dental hygiene delivery. With several whitening options available, the team helps each customer select the best method for them. Services include a 60-minute cleaning and whitening, 30- and 60-minute whitenings, and more. Gift certificates are available.


Ski Butternut

380 State Road, Great Barrington

(413) 528-2000; www.skibutternut.com

Skiing and snowboarding definitely make those New England winters more tolerable. This family-oriented ski area in Great Barrington provides 110 acres of skiing spread across 22 trails. If you are shopping for someone who loves the outdoors, a gift certificate to Ski Butternut may open the doors to a new passion. If they’re already hooked on skiing, a lift ticket will be most appreciated. Check out the website for prices and deals.


SkinCatering Massage & Skincare

1500 Main St., Upper Level, Springfield

(413) 282-8772; skincatering.com

Pamper someone special with a massage and facial combo, or, better yet, book a one-hour couples massage and enjoy a true spa experience together. SkinCatering offers a release from the hectic holidays, and after all the stress and strain, an extra-special, very personal gift is just what the doctor ordered. Gift certificates are available in any amount online or in person.


Springfield Falcons

45 Falcons Way, Springfield

(413) 739-4625; falconsahl.com

A great deal for big-time hockey fans and folks who simply enjoy a fun night out with the family, Falcons games are reasonably priced entertainment in Springfield’s increasingly vibrant downtown. The AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, the Falcons play home games through April at the MassMutual Center. Purchase tickets at the box office or online.


Springfield Museums

1 Edwards St., Springfield

(413) 263-6800; springfieldmuseums.org

Explore “Cabinets of Curiosity” at the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, “Still of the Night: Nocturne Scenes by Currier & Ives” at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, “Firearms of Famous People” at the Wood Museum of Springfield History, planetarium lectures at the Springfield Science Museum — and those are just a tiny sampling of the current offerings at the Quadrangle. A Springfield Museums membership provides access to all of it, and is a great gift.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Holiday Hints Sections
Retailers Cautiously Optimistic About Holiday Shopping Season

Ken Williamson

Ken Williamson believes people are gaining confidence in the economy and are less afraid to spend than they were in the past.

This year’s holiday shopping season holds the promise of being merry and bright for local retailers. And although it’s too early to determine exactly how much people will spend, store owners have made their lists, checked them twice, and are already wrapping gifts purchased by shoppers who want to avoid crowds and be able to choose from a wide selection of sizes, styles, and gift options before things get picked over.

Eastfield Mall Marketing Manager Nicole Sweeney said retailers are catering to what she calls a “creeping” trend in which people begin buying gifts long before the holiday-shopping season officially kicks off on Black Friday.

“People are already shopping. They aren’t waiting until weeks before Christmas to buy gifts. They are stretching out their spending, and national retailers have definitely taken note; they put trim-the-tree and holiday-related items on the shelves before Halloween even arrived,” Sweeney told BusinessWest, adding that popular gifts include perfume sets and newly released video games and music.

Furthermore, many people started their annual shopping spree when the iPhone 6 hit the shelves in September.

Lisa Wray concurred that the season has begun. “Quite a few stores are already decorated for Christmas, and shoppers have been asking about our holiday return policy,” the marketing manager for Holyoke Mall reported during the first week of November.

Although they don’t sell electronics, Williamson’s Clothier in Chicopee also had a fair number of shoppers in September buying gifts and requesting holiday gift wrap. “We get customers who want something special,” owner Ken Williamson said. “People come here to look for items they wouldn’t find elsewhere, and many want to get an early start.”

In fact, a Google consumer study conducted this summer showed that 29% of people planned to start their shopping in July, although most do wait until December.

Wilson’s Department Store in Greenfield is another independent retailer in sync with the growing trend. “We kicked off the holiday season during the last week of October with our ‘Fabulous Harvest Sale,’” said Vice President Pamara Beauregard. “We opened our Trim A Tree Shop, put holiday paper in our gift-wrapping department, and have racks stacked to the ceiling with extra merchandise. We also expanded our hours, and many people are already taking advantage of them.”

However, the majority of shoppers do wait until Black Friday to begin their shopping, and this year Eastfield Mall will open at midnight for the first time in its history.

“Black Friday is always a huge day, and we are approaching it very aggressively. We know customers are out shopping, and we have to open to be competitive,” Sweeney said, adding that the first 250 people to enter the mall will receive free coupons, gift cards, concert tickets, and more. “Black Friday is something people plan for, and groups wait in line together for stores to open.”

Setting Sale

Online shopping has forced retailers to engage in very competitive pricing, and local spokespeople agree that shoppers are waiting for sales, spending judiciously, and, in many cases, purchasing practical items they know will be used.

“Although things aren’t as tight as they were a few years ago, people are still cautious about spending. They remember what it was like when the price of oil and gas was really high. They also know what they want and are being very careful with their money,” Beauregard said. “They’re purchasing gifts that tend to be practical and will help recipients stay warm, such as sweaters, down comforters, or cozy flannel nightgowns. People want to give, but also want to be sure the gifts will be helpful.”

Kate Gourde has taken note of the trend, and the shopkeeper from Cooper’s Gifts and Curtains in Agawam said she’s made some changes in the type of merchandise the store carries, replacing tabletop and decorative items with jewelry, fashion accessories, and clothing. “People want practical gifts that not only have a fashion flair, but will help to keep them warm,” she said, adding that the shop began wrapping holiday gifts in September.

However, Sweeney stressed that sales and competitive pricing are critical, especially at Eastfield Mall.

Nicole Sweeney

Nicole Sweeney says holiday shopping at the Eastfield Mall began in September after the iPhone 6 was released.

“We cater to an urban market, and incomes tend to be lower here than in than some of the surrounding communities, so people are looking for deals, which is another reason why they start shopping so early,” she said. “Money is being spent, but in a much more considered and thoughtful way.”

However, Williamson believes there has been a change in the economic climate and thinks shoppers are less afraid to spend than they were in the past. “I have gotten the feeling for the first time this year that people are finally a little more confident,” he said.

His sentiment is backed up by research. A National Retail Federation survey released last month says the average holiday shopper will spend about 5% more this year, or $804 compared to the $767 spent in 2013, while a report from the International Council of Shopping Centers predicts shoppers will spend 4.1% more than they did last year. Still, other studies forecast only a 2.5% to 3% increase.

Williamson thinks 5% is overly optimistic and said he will be happy if his store does the same amount of business as it did last year. “It exceeded my expectations and was what I was hoping for,” he told BusinessWest. “And although I would gladly settle for a 5% increase, it’s quite a big number.”

Sweeney agreed, and added that many factors play into the equation.

“Last year the outlook was good until the government shut down, which caused a hangover of fear during the holidays,” she said. “Many local shoppers were affected, especially since Westover Air Reserve Base is so close to the mall. And shopping can also be affected by the weather. So if I knew we would end up with a 3% increase in sales, I would be dancing right now.”

Gourde agrees. “We feel 5% is really optimistic, but would love to think it could happen,” she said. “Last year sales were down in December due to a major snowstorm, so many people stayed home and ordered online, which meant the brick-and-mortar stores took a big hit. Just a little mood snow would be fine, but I hope we don’t have any major snowstorms in December again. And the economy is still challenging, so we are hoping we will have a solid year, rather than a stellar year.”

Positive Projections

Holyoke Mall has undergone significant change since last year. Renovations include new tile on every floor, new seating areas and rest rooms, a newly opened Michael Kors store, and a renovation of Victoria’s Secret, which Wray says all adds up to a better shopping environment for guests.

She believes it will bode well for the holiday season, and added that a lot of stores are offering online ordering with in-store pickup, or allowing people to reserve items online and pick them up in the mall. “If they pay for them here, it adds to our sales,” she said, “so we are optimistic we will have a solid gain over last year.”

Beauregard agreed. “We would be really happy if the numbers are even with what we did last year when we exceeded our expectations, and based on what we have seen so far, we don’t see any reason that things shouldn’t be just as good,” she said. “But it doesn’t happen every year, and if we do even better than last year, we will be ecstatic.”

Holiday Hints Sections
Local Ideas for Gift Giving Sure to Please Everyone on Your List

Leisurely shopping is a pastime many people enjoy, but when it comes to finding gifts to suit the people on your holiday list, the venture can become stressful.

So, as we immerse ourselves in the spirit of the season, BusinessWest offers some ideas sure to please the most discriminating gift recipients. Even better, they can be found at local establishments, which means a purchase helps to support the Western Mass. economy.

We have listed a few ideas, beginning with the name of the business, followed by an item they sell and, in some cases, information about different options, styles, or choices.

Silverscape-TreeSilverscape Designs
One King St.
Northampton, MA 01060
(413) 584-3324
Wind Swept Tree by Randy Adams, $145-$225
Colleen Kellogg of Silverscape Designs says a Wind Swept Tree sculpture by Randy Adams is the perfect gift for the person who is difficult to buy for. “It’s a conversation piece and an item people will be proud to display in their homes,” she said, adding that the individually handmade trees start out as wire on a spool and are very popular.

Pioneer Valley Balloons
130 Cross Path Road
Northampton, MA 01060
(413) 218-7823
Christmas Special, $200 per person

The sky is literally the limit when you give someone a gift certificate for a hot-air balloon ride, and it’s something that is guaranteed to create memories that will last a lifetime. Choose from a sunrise or sunset excursion on a balloon manned by owner and chief pilot Lisa Fusco. This unique offering is sure to surprise and delight an individual, couple, or family.

Elements Hot Tub Spa
373 Main St.
Amherst, MA 01002
(413) 256-8827
Hot Tub for Two, 60 minutes, $60
Relaxation Massage, 60 minutes, $75

Today’s workplace can be stressful, and if you are searching for a gift for someone who really needs to unwind and enjoy themselves, consider a gift certificate to Elements Hot Tub Spa. The recipient will be rejuvenated after a half-hour or hour in their choice of state-of-the-art hot-tub rooms, saunas, and/or a steam room. And if water therapy isn’t high on their list, a Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, sugar scrub, herbal wrap, hot-stone massage, or Ayurvedic body-work session may fit the bill. Gift certificates come in different denominations, but are a definite treat for the mind, body, and spirit.

Ski Butternut
380 State Road
Great Barrington, MA 01230
(413) 528-2000
Lift Ticket, $25; Learn to Ski Package, $75

New England winters can be long and dreary until one discovers the joy of cruising down a ski slope surrounded by snow-covered trees. If you are shopping for someone who works out or loves the outdoors, a gift certificate to Ski Butternut may open the doors to a new passion. If the person is already hooked on downhill sports, a lift ticket will also be a gift they are sure to appreciate

BlackBirchGiftBasketBlack Birch Vineyard
155 Glendale Road
Southampton, MA 01073
(413) 527-0164
Vineyard Tour and Wine Tasting with Signature Glass, $10
Gift Basket (wine, two glasses, and a tasting certificate for two),
$45 for white wine; $50 for red wine
Iced Dessert Wine (with two glasses), $45

Anyone who enjoys wine will appreciate a bottle of the award-winning, hand-crafted red or white wine made by hand at Black Birch Vineyard. Prices start at $16 for a bottle, although there’s also nothing like an outing to the vineyard for a wine tasting. Other choices choose a gift basket or a special iced dessert wine made from grapes that are pressed while they are frozen.

Sonny’s Place
349 Main St.
Somers, CT 06071
Go Kart, $8 ($4 for a passenger)
Rock Wall Climb, $5
Soaring Eagle Zipline, $7
Bounce House, $5 for 30 minutes

Need a gift for a child, teen, adult, or entire family that loves to have fun? A gift certificate to Sonny’s Place may be your answer, as the recreation center offers an arcade, batting cage, karting, rock wall, bounce house, Soaring Eagle Zipline, and much, much more, including food and a bar. Adults don’t need to be accompanied by a child to enjoy a one-day getaway here. The prices are reasonable, and when Christmas Day is over, there will be an exciting, fun-filled experience to look forward to.

HannoushLocketB&WHannoush Jewelers
Holyoke Mall, 50 Holyoke St.
Holyoke, MA 01040
(413) 536-7353
River of Love Locket, $285
Abe Hannoush recommends that anyone looking for a “perfect expression of love” consider the River of Love locket by artist Petra Azar. A row of diamonds is embedded across the heart, and the magnetic clasp in the center of the piece eliminates the need to struggle putting it on. The locket is part of a line created exclusively for Hannoush Jewelers by Azar, with prices ranging from $99 to $400.

SGarveyGiftshopBIRDSpringfield Museums
1 Edwards St.
Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 263-6800
Day Trip to Sterling and Francine Art Institute, $85 or $72 for members (includes admission, tour, lunch, bus transportation, and gratuities)

Matt Longhi says the gift store at Springfield Museums has so many unique items that people could find something there for everyone on their list. In addition to high-end jewelry and handmade gifts for adults, there are interactive toys and games for children, a wide range of books for the young set and adults alike, memorabilia from Indian Motocycles, and all sorts of things related to Dr. Seuss.
The museums also offer classes in painting and drawing, family genealogy, and eclectic offerings like Polish and Ukrainian egg decoration and “Drawing in Pubs,” with basic drawing instruction provided while sipping a pint.

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
1350 Main St.
Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 737-2291
Jeans and Classic Pop Series concert, $31-$66
Tickets to a Jeans and Classic Pop Series concert are sure to please anyone on your list who loves this genre of music. Hits that chronicle the history of Michael Jackson will be performed Feb. 7. There’s also a concert titled “Blood, Sweat, Tears, Earth, Wind, Fire … and a Little Chicago!” on March 8, and either offering will have recipients rockin’ in their seats as they forget the world around them and get into the groove.

Steaming Tender Restaurant
28 Depot St.
Palmer, MA 01069
(413) 283-2744
The holidays are a sentimental time, and a gift certificate from the Steaming Tender Restaurant will provide people on your gift list with a nostalgic experience. Prices range from $11 to $23 for a meal served in this historic public train station built in 1884. It has been restored to museum quality and is filled with antiques, original artifacts, and railroad memorabilia. There is a Conductor’s Lounge where people can enjoy signature cocktails such as the Locomotion or Steaming Tender’s own Railroad Brew Ale. Diners can also enjoy a view of passing trains on the railroad that goes past this remarkable eatery.

V1VodkaHiResTable and Vine
1119 Riverdale St.
West Springfield, MA 01089
(800) 474-2449
V-One Vodka, $25
This hand-crafted vodka was created by Hadley native and entrepreneur Paul Kozub, who launched the product in 2005. It is sure to please people with the most sophisticated palates and can be enjoyed by itself or in an endless number of cocktails. Manufactured in Poland, it is the only vodka made from 100% spelt wheat (an ancient variety first grown in Europe), and was feted with the World Spirit Competition Double Gold Medal in 2010.

Children’s Learning World
1029 North Road
Westfield, MA 01085
(413) 538-9800
Fast Track – Ready, Aim, Score!, $20
Wooden Project Workbench $100
Cheryl Thivierge says children age 5 and older who love action games will have tons of fun playing a board game for two players called Fast Track – Ready, Aim, Score! The goal is be the first to spin 10 disks across the board with the help of an elastic cord.
Another gift that will amuse children ages 3 and older for hours is a Wooden Project Workbench. It comes with a complete set of wooden tools and pre-cut pieces to build a helicopter, racecar, motorcycle, dune buggy, airplane, and robot. A project book is also included.

PlatterpusMitchMillerPlatterpus Records
28 Cottage St.
Easthampton, MA 01027
(413) 203-5305
Vinyl Records, $6-$8

Dave Witthaus from Platterpus says vinyl records make a great gift for people who appreciate high-quality sound. “Vinyl is making a comeback because it’s the best sound recording you can buy,” said, adding that many stores have also started selling turntables to respond to this renewed interest.
Platterpus has about 10,000 albums in stock, and although jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues tend to be the most popular genres, shoppers are sure to find some tunes to spin that will please anyone of any age.

Now that you’re armed with plenty of local ideas, happy holiday shopping from BusinessWest!

Holiday Hints Sections
Some Suggestions for the People on Your Holiday Gift List

The holiday shopping season is well underway, but many still have a lot of work to do to as they endeavor to draw lines through the names of those of their holiday gift lists.
In the spirit of the season, BusinessWest is offering some ideas. But these aren’t just any ideas. They’re suggestions involving local businesses, many of which you’ve read about on the pages of this magazine in recent months.
We start by listing the business venture and then move on to the item or items you may want to consider there.
We hope you’ll consider these options and, when possible, buy local.

Amherst Farm Winery
Route 9, Amherst, MA 01002
(413) 253-1400

AmherstWineUse• Tasting and bottle of Pumpkin Frost dessert wine: $25
Enjoy a winter afternoon wine tasting at the Amherst Farm Winery. The rustic barn that houses the granite-top tasting counter, winemaking kitchen, and gift shop also features a fireplace sipping room. A tasting includes a choice of five of the 15 vintages, a bonus sample of Winemakers limited Chocolate/Raspberry DIVA or Pumpkin Frost dessert wine, and a logo wine glass.

A.O. White
78 Center Square
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
(413) 525-1800

AOWhiteCashmere• Kinross Cashmere Sweater in plum: $325
• Maker & Co. pinstripe fitted shirt in plum, gray, and lime: $125
Lewis White of A.O. White says every man’s wardrobe needs a fine cashmere sweater. Paired with a quality pima cotton shirt and favorite trousers, the casual outfit is perfect for holiday get-togethers and relaxing weekends. Dads, sons, brothers, boyfriends, and husbands will all appreciate an exquisite new cashmere sweater, especially to mix and match with different tailored shirts.

Bay Path College
588 Longmeadow St., Longmeadow, MA 01106
(413) 565-1066
www.baypath.edu; [email protected]

• 2014 Women’s Leadership Conference Early Bird gift certificate: alumni, $250; general public, $275
April is not far off, actually, and the much-anticipated annual Women’s Leadership Conference staged each spring by Bay Path College, an event of inspiration, education, and community, makes a great gift. This year’s speakers for the April 25 event have not been made public yet, but with past keynotes by award-winning thespians, businesswomen, and government leaders, including Jane Fonda, Queen Latifah, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the schedule for the 2014 ‘Own Your Story’ conference is sure to be as exciting and motivating as ever.

CityStage/Symphony Hall
One Columbus Center, Springfield, MA 01103
34 Court St, Springfield, MA 01103
Box Office: (413) 788-7033
[email protected]

• Bud Light Comedy Series 6-Pack:  $149
Provide laughter this holiday season! Give one of CityStage & Symphony Hall’s Comedy Gift Packs, which will provide a great night out for friends and family. Consider the Bud Light Comedy Series 6-Pack, which includes a Bud Light Cooler and two tickets to see Paul D’Angelo, the Irish Comedy Tour, and Etta May at CityStage.

Cooper’s Gifts & Curtains
161 Main St., Agawam, MA 01001
(413) 786-7760

CoopersBangles• Bangle bracelet: $98 – $216
• Collectible clasps:  $50 – $75
A gift that has the ability to look different with add-on pieces is in vogue, and the made-in-Massachusetts LeStage Convertible Collection of sized sterling silver bangles, some with 14-carat gold accents, is the perfect idea, because the removable and collectible clasps are the eye candy.  There are so many clasp choices, and all are gift-wrapped, compliments of Cooper’s Gifts & Curtains.

Dave DiRico’s Golf & Racquet
1050 Riverdale St., West Springfield, MA 01089
(413) 734-4444

GolfDriver• TaylorMade SLDR driver: $399
The avid golfer will probably already know that the latest TaylorMade SLDR driver is out, and it can be found at Dave DiRico’s Golf & Racquet. The club’s low, forward center of gravity promotes high-launch, fast ball speed, and low spin for phenomenal distance, and the loft can be increased or reduced up to 1.5 degrees with a 12-position loft sleeve for optimal trajectory. Made of titanium with a flexible graphite shaft, it’s perfect for men, women, and senior golfers.

Denise Smith Photography
(413) 224-1636
Call for appointment

• Family portrait package gift certificate: $425
Create memories and keep them forever with a personalized family portrait session taken by regional portrait specialist Denise Smith. Using her expertise for a clothing and design consultation, your gift of timeless photography will become a family treasure. Gift certificate includes consultation, on-site photography session, and 16 x 20 classic mounted print.

It’s All About Me
2 Somers Road, Hampden, MA 01036
(413) 566-2285

AllAboutMe_Dress• Shimmer party dress: $53
A boutique and gift shop where you can find fashionable, fun, unique, and affordable apparel and gifts is always a sure bet. Consider a party dress in her size from It’s All About Me in Hampden for New Year’s Eve. Beautiful soft shimmer fabric is absolutely adorable, with colors of charcoal, gold, and silver by YA Los Angeles. Available in small, medium, and large, this dress is glamorous enough for any special event.

Kaleidoscope Pottery
1 Cottage St, # 11
Easthampton, MA 01027
(413) 527-6390
(Call for appointment or for gallery locations where pottery is sold)

• 5” diameter soap dish: $28
Artist Evelyn Snyder collects different leaves to create designs and patterns on stoneware slabs that she then forms into various shapes of platters, bowls, and vessels. Kaleidoscope Pottery appeals to gardeners, nature enthusiasts, and those who appreciate beautiful and functional pottery. A great gift item for everyday use is her handmade stoneware soap dishes — the soap happens to be from Sage Meadow Farm in Easthampton — and all pieces are dishwasher- and microwave-safe.

Kate Gray Boutique
749 Maple Road, Longmeadow, MA 01106
(413) 567-7500

KateGreyJacket• Wellensteyn jacket: $399
The holidays are a perfect time to update the wardrobe of a special woman in your life, but need help choosing? Consider a boutique like Kate Gray in Longmeadow for that personal attention and help in finding unique clothing made with fitted cuts and fine quality fabrics. She’ll always have something one-of-a-kind … like a burgundy metallic winter sports jacket by Wellensteyn.

Kiddly Winks
801 Williams St.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
(413) 567-0688

Squigz• Squigz Fun Little Suckers! $50
Joy Leavitt at Kiddly Winks says one of the hottest toys this season is Squigz Fun Little Suckers!, a collection of colorful silicone-rubber shapes that flex, stick, and suck people into creativity they may not have been aware of. The shapes connect to each other and any solid, non-porous surface, leaving no residue or marks on surfaces. All ages can connect a masterpiece, providing hours of individual or family fun.

The Delaney House
3 Country Club Road, Holyoke, MA 01040
(413) 532-1800

• ‘Have A Bite. Stay The Night’: $179
The eclectic menu at the Delaney House blends American, Asian, and European tastes — certain to please even the pickiest partner — but consider merging that experience with a night in the new D. Hotel & Suites for a romantic couples package. Gift package includes $75 toward dinner at Delaney’s Grill or the Mick, in-room champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries, and full breakfast.

Lorilil Jewelers
1500 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 731-5400

Rolex• Rolex watches: 26 mm, $10,650; 31 mm, $11,650; 36 mm, $12,850
Known for the elegant Rolex and David Yurman brands, Lorilil Jewelers in downtown Springfield offers a showroom of sparkle and shine all year long. But if tastes run on the high side, consider one of three sizes of Rolex Datejust watches. It’s been proven, time and time again, that one of these ‘timeless’ trinkets is sure to please.

Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting
10 West St., West Hatfield, MA 01088
(413) 446-7845

• Annual PVIK $50 membership and one race: $70
A 23,000-square-foot track offers an area where karts can reach speeds up to 40 mph. The 1,000-foot road course challenges the most experienced drivers through seven left turns and four rights. Every race is timed down to .001 of a second, and each driver will receive a time sheet after their race to compare. Kids 8 and older, over 48 inches, and weighing under 180 pounds can ride as well as adults.

Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club
121 West St. (formerly Bassett Boat Co.)
Springfield, MA 01104
(413) 736-1322

• Annual Membership and access to all programs, indoor and outdoor: $500
(BusinessWest readers receive 25% off)
Looking for something unique for an active family member or friend? Consider a rowing class, indoor in cold weather, or on the Connecticut River the rest of the year. Offering programs for youth and adults, ages 12 to 99, the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club is a rowing facility in the North End of Springfield with a mission to promote river-based sporting activities, develop river access, and encourage recreation in the Greater Springfield metropolitan area.

SkinCatering Massage & Skincare
Tower Square, 1500 Main St., Suite 220
Springfield, MA 01115
(413) 282-8-SPA

• Massage and facial combo: $125
• Couples massage: 60 min., $115; 90 min., $165;
2 hours, $215
Pamper someone special with a two-hour massage and facial combo, or, better yet, book a one-hour couples massage and enjoy a true spa experience together. SkinCatering offers a release from the hectic holidays, and after all the stress and strain, an extra-special, very personal gift is just what the doctor ordered.

Springfield Falcons Hockey
45 Falcons Way, Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 739-GOAL

• Holiday Hat Trick: $45 (for a limited time only)
Have a hockey fan in the family? Help them take in a hockey game and support Falcons Hockey in downtown Springfield with a special package from the Falcons. The Holiday Hat Trick offers two Falcons ticket vouchers, a $10 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card, and a special Falcons holiday puck.

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Springfield Symphony Hall
34 Court St., Springfield, MA 01103
Box Office: 1350 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 733-2291

• BOGO Choose 3: various prices
Give the gift of classical and pops music from the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO). Buy one, get one (BOGO) offers a ‘Choose 3’ SSO subscription that allows you to select any three Springfield Symphony Orchestra performances during the 2013-14 season and save up to 20% versus the cost of single tickets. BusinessWest readers get a second comparable Choose 3 subscription free with the purchase of one Choose 3 at the regular price, for a 50% savings. (Reference code BWBOGO for 50% off second package.)

— Elizabeth Taras

Holiday Hints Sections
2013 May Be the First Healthy Holiday Sales Season Since Before the Recession

Joy Leavitt

Joy Leavitt is supporting locally owned independent businesses with a new nonprofit organization and educating consumers about buying local.

Walking into Kiddly Winks, a popular children’s toy store in Longmeadow, runs a close second to visiting the ‘real’ Santa’s Toyland at the North Pole.
Once in the store, customers are greeted by the cheery owner, Joy Leavitt, who easily takes on the role of a much younger Mrs. Claus with her warm smile and genuinely welcoming character. These qualities, combined with a spot-on toy selection, have made for a very successful business for the past 28 years, and allowed her to open a second store in Canton, Conn. in 2004.
Meeting the Kiddly Winks owner close to the holiday season is only heightened by her frequent use of the word ‘magical,’ which she uses to describe everything from the thousands of customers who have supported her two businesses to the growing popularity of the annual American Express Small Business Saturday — the day after Black Friday — to the nonprofit organization she started this year called Living Local (more on this later).
However, magic is exactly what retailers may need in this year’s sales season — defined by retail sales organizations, like the Retailers Assoc. of Massachusetts, as running from Black Friday to Christmas Eve — because there are six fewer shopping days than last year, including one less vital weekend for shopping, due to Thanksgiving being so late this year. Despite the loss of days, the Retailers Assoc. still predicts a 3.5% gain in sales ($15 billion) over last year, which is a shade less than the National Retail Federation’s projections for this year of 3.9%, which equates to $602.1 billion in total sales. It’s a progression that economists are calling ‘cautionary, slow growth’.
In the Western Mass. region, the independent retailers that BusinessWest spoke with seem to be relatively unconcerned about the shopping-week loss because the past year has shown steady growth, and for the first time since the Great Recession, they are viewing this sales season with anticipation, not trepidation.
“This year has been very, very good, and I do think it’s going to be an active holiday season,” said Dave DiRico of Dave DiRico’s Golf and Racquet in West Springfield. “The economy seems to be getting better, and people seem to be out shopping more.”
DiRico, a former club pro who purchased the well-known Fran Johnson’s Golf & Tennis from owner Cindy Johnson in March 2012 and reopened under his own name the following month, is looking forward to his second successful holiday season as a retailer, based on the success of last holiday season and his growth this year.
Kate Vishnyakov

Kate Vishnyakov’s clientele has already followed her boutique’s move from East Longmeadow to Longmeadow, proving that consumers are willing to support local business.

And while one might think that Kate Vishnyakov of Kate Gray Boutique should be nervous about this upcoming season since relocating her shop from East Longmeadow to Longmeadow this past October, she’s actually not. As she explained to BusinessWest, she launched her business six years ago at the beginning of the recession but is still going strong.
“The key is to adjust with the times,” Vishnyakov stated. “It got to the point where I didn’t have to depend on what was happening in Washington, or politics, or the economy; I built something that could support and sustain us.”
Her clientele has already welcomed her into town because, with a large percentage of customers coming from Longmeadow, Vishnyakov’s move has made it all that much easier to shop locally, which is vital to her existence. In fact, her sales in October, even being closed for 10 days for the move, were stronger than the same month last year.
Weather, economics, and tragedies can all affect the holiday shopping season, said Diane Merrick, owner, with her sister, Ann Marie Moloney, of It’s All About Me, a women’s boutique in Hampden.  But preparing in spite of challenges is a risk that is necessary because the sales of the past holiday seasons reflect what the inventory should be for the present.
“We can’t control people’s fears,” said Merrick. “All we can do is focus on being positive, listening to what customers say they want to see in the store, and provide those products with excellent personal service.”
While Leavitt uses the word ‘magical,’ Victor Ounduian, president of Lorilil Jewelers in downtown Springfield’s Tower Square, is cautiously optimistic. “There’s definitely more positivity this year, if that’s a word,” he said with a chuckle. (Indeed, the Merriam-Webster dictionary describes positivity as ‘the state of being positive.’)
For this issue’s focus on the upcoming holiday sales season, BusinessWest spoke with local business owners who are taking that positivity to heart, at the same time they acknowledge the unscientific nature of making holiday shopping predictions.

Local Shift
During the year, Leavitt sees a lot of young women enter her store to show off their babies.
“And they were my customers when they were little girls,” Leavitt said, smiling. “That’s the beauty of what a legacy business is all about.”
Leavitt is passionate about local businesses, many of which are run by the second, third, or fourth generation, and the reason that she created Living Local (www.living-local.net), a nonprofit organization of local independent business owners in Western Mass. and Northern Conn.
“Shop local has become a real trend in the U.S., and I looked around at our lovely communities, and we didn’t have one,” said Leavitt, referring to an organization that would promote such a philosophy. She worked with local media, and the first meeting brought more than 35 independent business owners just to hear what Leavitt had to say.
“The first story that I told was that, for every $100 that a customer spends in an independently owned store, whatever type it is, $69 of that stays in the community, through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures,” she told BusinessWest, adding that, for national chains, only $43 stays in the community, and worse yet, Internet shopping offers nothing for the local community. “But the real story is to educate the public that if they just shift they way they shop, even 10% of their shopping to shopping locally, they will positively impact local communities and our local tax base.”
After that April 2013 meeting, 20 local businesses signed up and paid the $100 fee to join that night. Now, 55 members of all sizes and counting — from Big Y to Merrick’s It’s All About You — can benefit from the group’s PR and in turn help educate the public about the importance of buying locally, Leavitt said.
The response has been magical (there’s that word again), she said; a recent week-long promotional event offering a $5 tote bag filled with members’ discount coupons sold out of the 500 bags in only six days, and a portion of those proceeds went to the Food Bank of Western Mass.

Dave DiRico

Business for the year to date has been very good for Dave DiRico, who is anticipating a busy holiday season for sporting-goods sales.

DiRico has high praise for Leavitt and her success with Kiddly Winks, having lived with his wife in Longmeadow for years. He is now benefiting from local shoppers, as she has done for years, due to the communities in Western Mass. and the Berkshires supporting his West Springfield sporting-goods store.
Another source of help for DiRico, Leavitt, and their fellow small-business owners is Small Business Saturday, which was launched in 2010 by American Express to promote its small-business customers and brand a special shopping day that could seize the momentum of Black Friday. The day allows card holders a percentage discount for all charges at participating local stores, and last year, Leavitt saw a 30% increase in American Express sales for that day.
“American Express really did that to grow their own company, but what they also did was to create something amazing and magical for small local business owners,” said Leavitt. “But a lot of people don’t even know that American Express started it or offers a discount; they just like to help out and shop locally on that special day.”
Regardless of why the day was created, American Express advertising alone is making it catch on nationally, and Leavitt said she and all the other local business owners are just happy that some light can shine on them, just as the holiday season is getting in to full swing.

With no grandiose expectations, Merrick, a young widow with two small boys, took a risk and purchased her small boutique in 2004, offering eclectic yet affordable gifts, jewelry, women’s clothing, and accessories of all kinds. The venture took off, and she soon expanded to a 2,300-square-foot location and, in late 2010, opened a second location in Greenwich, Conn.
For Merrick, the 25% or more of annual sales in the month of December alone are worth all the shopping and researching unique vendors throughout the year.
One risk, she said, is purchasing large volumes of items that will theoretically appeal to a wide variety of customers. Miscalculations can leave the business owner with thousands of dollars of stock that sits, she noted, adding that such gambles should be taken only after considerable due diligence.
Lewis White, owner of A.O. White in East Longmeadow, a 4,200-square-foot men’s and women’s fine clothing and specialty shop since the 1940s, has been through three major recessions and has spent decades trying to figure out such challenging holiday inventory questions.
He credits his success to his buying standards, opting for fine-quality fabrics, styles, and brands that aren’t found at national chain retailers. And like Vishnyakov and Merrick, he relies on his customers to tell him what they like so his inventory can always remain fresh and unique. During the holiday season, White and his staff are monitoring stock daily and ordering by phone or online to keep up.
“We’re always projecting for increases; you can’t have too much or too little,” he explained. “And that’s the part of the business where you have to use your judgment.”

Perfect Fit
Having endured the economic downturns of the early ’90s, post-9/11, and more recently the Great Recession, Ounduian’s business has bounced back many times.
“Any non-essential item is what goes first — it happens to everyone,” said Ounduian, referring to how consumers change their habits during downturns. “But with this last recession, it didn’t bounce back as fast.”
But with the holidays approaching, Ounduian is using his judgment and banking on that positivity to sell his increased holiday inventory of branded names like David Yurman, Rolex, Mikimoto pearls, and Roberto Coin jewelry, which tend to be top sellers each holiday season.
Soon, he said, the male shoppers will start their shopping around the 12 days before Christmas, and especially the last two days before Christmas, which he expects will keep his store hopping.
“I think we’re going to have a busy season,” Ounduian added.  “It’s just a gut feeling — but a good gut feeling.”

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Holiday Hints Sections

Wilson “Hope” Golf Box Set: $299.99
Dave DiRico’s Golf Shop and Racquet Center
A pink golf set made for the starter or intermediate woman golfer; a portion of proceeds go towards breast-cancer research.
21 Myron St., West Springfield, MA 01089
(413) 734-4444; www.davediricogolf.com


iSound Fire: $29.99
Ideal for iPod, iPhone, iPad, and any audio device with a 3.5mm output; powerful built-in speaker allows music to be heard with depth and clarity; built in Li-ion battery (5-hour life at 70% volume).
2078 Memorial Dr., South Hadley, MA 01075
(413) 535-0200; www.familywireless.com
(See website for other locations)


explorenorthampton.com Gift Card:
Any Denomination
Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce
Honored at more than 60 Northampton shops, restaurants, salons; purchase at the Northampton Visitors Center or online; reload funds at any time and check balance online.
Northampton Visitors Center
99 Pleasant St., Northampton, MA 01060
(413) 584-1900; www.explorenorthampton.com


Old World Italian Gift Basket: $100
Frigo’s Foods
From the northern village of Dolo, Italy, the Frigo family has been serving Western Mass. since the 1950s; the Old World Italian basket holds a mix of seasonal gourmet products; other baskets in different prices available
90 William St., Springfield, MA 01105; (413) 732-5428
159 Shaker Road, East Longmeadow, MA 01028
(413) 525-9400; www.frigofoods.com


Kia or Volvo Remote Car Starter Kits:
$350 – $595
Fathers & Sons Dealer Group
Kia and Volvo factories now offer factory-brand car starters that are compatible with each car’s wiring system; can be ordered with new car purchase or as a gift accessory.
Kia: $350-$595 installed (depending on year of car)
468 Memorial Ave., West Springfield, MA 01089
(877) 484-3442
Volvo: $519 installed
989 Memorial Ave., West Springfield, MA 01089
(877) 332-8579; www.fathers-sons.com


The GET Skiing Program: $89
Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort
Guaranteed Easy Turns (GET) program offers a learn-to-ski class and free lift ticket for gift giver.
37 Corey Road, Hancock, MA  01237
(413) 738-5500; www.jiminypeak.com


Family Sports Basket: Various Prices
Create your own sports basket for a family by purchasing tickets or gift cards/promotions from these local museums and sports teams (based on a family of four):

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: $76 Family Four Pack
Children 4 and under free
1000 Hall of Fame Ave., Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 781-6500; www.hoophall.com


Springfield Falcons Hockey: $40
Falcons’ Dunkin’ Donut Holiday Hat Trick Package; $80 value includes two hats, two Falcons tickets for any game, two $5 Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards.
45 Falcons Way, Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 739-3344; www.falconsahl.com


Springfield Armor: $49
All-You-Can-Eat Four-Game Plan includes tickets to four basketball games (Jan. 5 and 26, Feb. 9, March 23) two of which include all-you-can-eat hot dogs, popcorn, and soda (Jan. 26 and March 23); one Springfield Armor hat; one Springfield Armor t-shirt; starts at $49; team plays at MassMutual Center.
One Monarch Place, Suite 220, Springfield, MA 01144
(413) 746-3263; www.armorhoops.com


Family Fun History Basket: Various Prices
Create your own history and educational basket for a family by purchasing tickets or gift cards/promotions from these local museums and organizations (all based on a family of four):


Zoo in Forest Park and Education Center: $23 Family Four Pack
Adults: $6.75; senior citizens: $4.75; children ages 5-12: $4.75; children up to age 4: $2.50
302 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA 01138
(413) 733-2251; www.forestparkzoo.org


Historic Deerfield: $34 Family Four Pack
Adults: $12; children 6-17: $5; children under 6: free
84B Old Main St., Deerfield, MA 01342
(413) 774-5581; www.historic-deerfield.org


Springfield Museums: $46 Family Four Pack
Adults: $15; seniors: $10: college students: $10: children 3-17: $8; children 2 and under: free
21 Edwards St., Springfield, MA 01103
(800) 625-7738; www.springfieldmuseums.org

Custom Holiday Floral Centerpiece: $20 and up
A New Leaf Flower Shop
A social enterprise of the nonprofit Center for Human Development (CHD); people with mental health and developmental challenges grow beautiful plants and create fabulous flower arrangements; full-service florist, handcrafted jewelry and specialty items.
50 Warehouse St., Springfield, MA 01118
(413) 733-2179; www.chd.org/anewleaf


1st Timer Learn to Ski Package: $75
Ski Butternut
With lift ticket, rentals, and lesson included, it’s a $135 value for only $75. Then keep coming back for more lessons, also with lift tickets and rental included, for only $100 per session.
380 State Road, Great Barrington, MA 01230
(413) 528-2000; www.skibutternut.com


Troy Rear Folding BattleSight: $119.00
Troy Industries
Durability and dead-on accuracy have made Troy Industries Folding BattleSights the hands-down choice of special ops and tactical users worldwide.
151 Capital Dr., West Springfield, MA 01089
(413) 788-4288; www.troyind.com


Cellulite-reducing Clay Mask Treatment: $65
SkinCatering at Bella Vita Salon
Deluxe body mask targets the cellulite on hips and the backs of thighs and includes a relaxing therapeutic back massage; results last 7-10 days.
491 Granby Road, South Hadley, MA 01075
(413) 539-0793; www.skincatering.com


Brightside Angel Kringle Candle: $18
Brightside for Families and Children
New Brightside Angel Kringle Candle features a vanilla lavender fragrance offered online and at O’Connell’s Convenience Plus locations; proceeds directly benefit more than 400 local children and their families with in-home counseling and family support.
271 Carew St., Springfield MA 01102
(413) 748-9920; www.brightsideangels.com


A Nonprofit Donation in Someone’s Name: Any Denomination
Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts
Give a gift in honor of a family member, friend, or colleague to the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts’ Annual Fund. Gifts to the Annual Fund help the Foundation support the region through scholarships for students and grants for nonprofits.
1500 Main St., Suite 2300, Springfield, MA 01115
(413) 732-2858; www.communityfoundation.org


Petra Azar Necklace: $235
Hannoush Jewelers
A brand-new collection; great for any age (even for those with shoulder or hand mobility issues); pendant is actually the magnetic clasp; comes in silver and gold; necklaces, bracelets, and rings.
1655 Boston Post Road, Springfield, MA 01129
(413) 439-2830; www.hannoush.com
(Check website for other locations)


Zip Line Canopy Tour: $94
Zoar Outdoor
The three-hour zip line canopy tour leads adventurers on an aerial trek though the woods by means of 11 zip lines, 2 sky bridges, and 3 rappels suspended in the trees (April 1 to Nov. 24, 2013); cost is per person.
7 Main St., Charlemont, MA 01339
(800) 532-7483; www.zoaroutdoor.com


Atkins Savory Suppers: $55
Atkins Farms Country Market
The Pioneer Valley’s first meal prep and assembly center; Savory Suppers allows one to prepare economical entrees quickly and easily with farm-fresh ingredients that can be taken home, frozen, and prepared when convenient; session includes 3 entrees to assemble or gift card can be purchased in any denomination.
1150 West St., South Amherst, MA 01002
(413) 253-9528; www.atkinssavorysuppers.com


Wine and Chocolate Tasting
Hosted by Michael Quinlan: $40
Table & Vine
Table & Vine will help one explore chocolate and wine together, with eight pairings. Cost is per person; reservations required.
1119 Riverdale St., West Springfield, MA 01089
(413) 736-4694; www.tableandvine.com


Collectible Children’s Patriotic Drum: $34.95
Noble & Cooley Drum
Tin-body drum, strung with white cord and leather ears, has patriotic theme of Uncle Sam surrounded by eagles, stars, and stripes (carrying strap and sticks included); dates back to 1906. Visit the museum, www.ncchp.org
42 Water St., Granville MA 01034
(413) 357-6321; www.noblecooley.com


Mudpie Sentiments Serving Collections: $26.95 – $56.95
Cooper’s Gifts and Curtains
Beautiful thoughts and sentiments on ceramic, brushed silver, and glass tableware.
161 Main St., Agawam, MA 01001
(413) 786-7760; www.coopersgifts.com


Manny’s Olive Oil: $15.99
Fresh from the tree to the bottle; cold-press olive oil straight from the Island of Crete, Greece; order online or purchase in local food outlets.
(413) 233-2532; www.mannysoliveoil.com