Holiday Gift Guide Sections

Out of the Red

Retailers Say Shoppers Are Mixing It Up This Valentine’s Day

Red Sox fans have a special place in their hearts for Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” played at home games to remind us that good times never seemed so good.
In the deep freeze of the off-season, however, what’s a bleacher creature to do?
The Pioneer Valley Chordsmen might have the answer. A network of barbershop quartets in the region that dates back to the 1950s, the Chordsmen devised their version of a Valentine’s Day serenade nearly a decade ago. Every Feb. 14, up to six quartets are dispatched to offices, homes, schools, hospitals, and other locales to surprise recipients of their unique sweetheart’s special: two songs, a box of chocolates, and a rose.
One of their most popular offerings is an adaptation of the Fenway classic:
“Hands touching hands — reaching out, touchin’ me, touchin’ yoouu … Sweet Valentine! (da, da, da!)”
Richard Bourbeau, a spokesman for the Pioneer Valley Chordsmen, said he’s performed for teachers, bartenders, administrative assistants, and even dialysis patients, singing such classics as “I Love You Truly” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”
“Every year, we put an ad in the papers and print some brochures and flyers,” he said. “Then, we create an itinerary for the day from the orders we receive. It’s a lot of fun, and a very unexpected way to deliver flowers and candy.”
Bourbeau estimates that last year, the Chordsmen sang in four-part harmony for close to 100 people, for $40 a performance. Their service is one way to score a home run on Valentine’s Day without hitting a foul, and retailers across the region can also offer a few assists.

All That Glitters
Sending along a barbershop quartet is one way to make a gift more unique, but in addition, there are several trends adding some oomph to the most popular Valentine’s Day offerings.
When shopping for foodies and sweet-tooths, for instance, some consumers are avoiding candy all together and opting for more interesting or health-conscious fare. Kate Gourde, owner of Cooper’s Gifts in Agawam and Cooper’s Cottage in Holyoke, said her gourmet food items such as those made by Stonewall Kitchen are proving to be a good alternative to sugary sweets.
“We’ve had a run on some of their items like Red Pepper Jelly and Raspberry Peach Champagne Jam. They’re still Valentine’s-like, but with a creative twist,” she said, adding that tried and true chocolate lovers need not fear this trend away from heart-shaped boxes of treats. “The Barefoot Contessa division of Stonewall Kitchen has delicious gift ideas for the chocoholic, like Outrageous Brownie Mix and Decadent Hot Fudge Sauce.”
Edible Arrangements, based in Wallingford, Conn. with locations in Hadley, West Springfield, and Wilbraham, unveiled its ‘Dipped-Fruit Bouquet’ this year, which includes chocolate-covered strawberries, pineapple, oranges, apples, and grapes. Fresh-fruit bouquets sans the fudge drizzle are also available, and both signal a trend that’s being seen in many different sectors: no longer is red the only color of love.
George Sarkis Jr., owner of Springfield Diamond and Jewelry Exchange, said diamonds never go out of style and are still one of the most-requested gift items for Valentine’s Day in his store. Further, they are available in a rainbow of colors and styles suited for every taste. Walking from case to case, Sarkis pointed out countless studs, rings, bracelets, and necklaces featuring diamonds ranging in shade from the palest pink to canary yellow.
There are popular diamond styles and settings, too, each with a little bit of flair. These include journey pendants — generally three-stone diamond necklaces with a curved design — eternity bands, which feature diamonds around the entire circumference of the ring, and settings featuring one large stone encircled by several smaller stones or chips.
“These are called micro-pavé settings,” said Sarkis. “The smaller diamonds are actually set with a microscope to enhance the bigger stone.”
Sarkis said shoppers are taking a greater interest in techniques like these of late, as well as in the overall quality of a stone as opposed to its size.
“People have really been investigating ideal-cut diamonds,” he said, explaining that the term refers to a mathematical formula for cutting diamonds to precise angles and proportions, to gain the optimum reflection and refraction of light — i.e., sparkle.
Beyond a girl’s best friend, though, there are other jewels in a range of colors, including green amethyst and lemon quartz. Many are placed in vintage-style settings, as the chunky, vibrant styles of the 1950s and 1960s re-enter the scene.
“Designs from the old days are definitely making a comeback,” Sarkis said, “and a lot of these styles are very romantic, and therefore great for Valentine’s Day. But across the board, people aren’t coming in looking only for red or pink stones. The decisions are more personal.”
Some are economic, too. Sarkis said that as the price of gold skyrockets, fewer people are buying gold pieces at his shop than are selling them.
“We’re in the middle of a gold rush, so selling and trading gold jewelry has been huge,” he said. “In terms of buying new pieces, many people are looking for new alternatives, such as silver or blends of different metals. This makes sense economically, but often, it also adds substance — people are making their jewelry their own.”
Mary Gancarz, district manager for Hannoush Jewelers, added that while this is her company’s first year selling the popular Pandora jewelry line, which features interchangeable beads and charms, she has high hopes for the item this month.
“If even just half of the purchasers who bought Pandora at Christmastime return to add on a bead or two, we will have a phenomenal response,” she said. “What is especially great about Pandora is that it’s totally ‘in’ right now, and just about everyone can afford it.”
In addition, Gancarz said she’s identified a few pieces that typically sell well at Hannoush this time of year, including diamond studs, gold earrings and chains, and heart motif jewelry.
“Generally speaking, the diamond jewelry is usually purchased by husbands or boyfriends for their significant others, especially if they have established, long-term relationships,” she noted. “The ‘gold route’ is definitely a stronger option if the relationship is just starting out.”

Petal Mettle
One of the most sought-after gifts for V-Day, however, remains fresh flowers, and there are a number of options in this arena in addition to the old standby of a dozen red roses.
Heather Sullivan, manager of DuRocher Florist in West Springfield, said she’s noticed a trend toward more customized arrangements that reflect the recipient’s personality.
“Many people are choosing to put something together that is more meaningful,” she said. “They’re starting to ask for more help and ideas, because they want to do something different.
“Roses are not going out of style,” she added, “and they’re a great gift. But there are many ways of presenting them, and I also think there’s more acceptance now of paying the same price for a mix of wildflowers or brightly colored blooms. Hot pink and orange are both big right now.”
Sullivan said more customers than ever are also asking for their sweetheart’s favorite flowers, including spring and summer varieties such as Gerbera daisies and sunflowers. In addition, there’s also a greater demand for keepsake items such as vases or bowls that add to the longevity of a floral gift.
“We’re doing some great things with arrangements in martini glasses, or champagne flutes,” she said, noting that online browsing and ordering makes giving more personalized gifts easier. “People can order from us 24 hours a day, and we’ve already begun preparing for Valentine’s Day, so we’re ready for it.”
Brad Parker, owner of Longmeadow Flowers and Gifts, agreed with Sullivan that different colors are being ordered more often than in previous years, when red, pink, and white blooms were the norm.
“Pink is big, but lavender does well, too,” he said. “In addition, many of the spring flowers are becoming more popular, such as tulips. We’re expecting to order thousands of tulips this year.”
Conversely, Parker said potted plants have yet to receive the same kind of attention, but there are a few inroads being made in this area, too.
“It’s a weak holiday for plants,” he said, “but orchids, which we sell in four different colors, are more in demand.”
With performance, presentation, and bold color schemes defining this year’s Valentine’s Day offerings, it seems a little bit of fun and whimsy has become the trend of the year… and it’s so good. (So good! So good!)