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Published: Sunday, 3/24/2013

Area retailers optimistic about Easter gift sales

Candy leads most lists; clothing items also get boost

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Easter toys at Meijer are just one item to benefit sales during  the Christian holiday. Other items can include clothing and flowers. Easter toys at Meijer are just one item to benefit sales during the Christian holiday. Other items can include clothing and flowers.
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Will consumer spending on Easter this year be sweet, or will it lay an egg?

For some area retailers, prospects for sales of Easter merchandise is tilting heavily to the former. But others say the Christian holiday, which will be celebrated March 31, isn’t what it used to be and sales related to it likely will provide just a minor boost to bottom lines.

For Bob Christie, owner of Christie’s Candies and Mints in Toledo, the Easter holiday already is putting a smile on his face.

“Things started picking up real good this week, especially in the last few days,” said Mr. Christie, whose store is known for making large assortments of flavored Easter creme-filled candy eggs personalized with hand-decorated names.

“Easter is usually busiest the last two weeks beforehand and next week is generally our busiest week of the year,” he said. “But you never know how much candy to make because you don’t know what the public’s tastes will be.”

At Christie’s, Easter sales are second only to Christmas. Last year was kind of a down year, whether it was because of the economy or the weather, Mr. Christie said. But thus far sales portend a “pretty good Easter for us,” he added.

The National Retail Federation said it expects Easter sales to be flat this year, with the average person spending $145.13, compared to $145.28. Total spending will hit about $17.2 billion, compared to $16.8 billion in 2012.

Debra Greenley Gorman, owner of The Chocolate Shoppe of Perrysburg is optimistic.

Christmas and Valentine’s Day sales were good, and Ms. Gorman made some special truffles for St. Patrick’s Day, which customers also bought. That suggests to her, she said, that consumers are ready to open their wallets a little more this year to celebrate holidays.

“We’ve had a nice 2013 so far, so we would expect that to continue through Easter,” Ms. Gorman said.

Frank Guglielmi, a spokesman for area Meijer stores, said the Michigan retailer also is expecting a strong showing this Easter. But general retailers such as Meijer probably get a bigger boost than a niche retailer, because Easter can spur sales across several categories besides candy, he said.

“From a grocery perspective, it’s right there behind Christmas and Thanksgiving, which we think of as one holiday season. So, for us, it’s our No. 2 holiday behind the Thanksgiving-Christmas season,” Mr. Guglielmi said. “It’s a meal-centered holiday, and then you bring the candy aspect into it.”

The Meijer spokesman said Easter has evolved somewhat in the last several years to become a gift-giving holiday, something it wasn’t before. Most of the gifts are candy, but the retail federation noted in its surveys that 48 percent of consumers said they will buy clothing for Easter.

Even the candy category has evolved in recent years, Mr. Guglielmi said, with manufacturers diversifying their candy products to include special Easter packaging and merchandise.

“It used to be when you bought an Easter basket, you got a wicker basket. Now baskets can look like Mickey Mouse heads or Spiderman heads. I don’t know when that started happening,” Mr. Guglielmi said.

However, not every retailer benefits greatly from the holiday.

At Flying Rhino Coffee & Chocolates, co-owner Gini Behrendt said she continues to make some specialty Easter candy, like edible Easter baskets and the like, but the holiday doesn’t seem to spur enough additional sales to justify investing in more time and product.

“We certainly do create some unique things for Easter, … and we’ve talked about getting into Easter eggs and the like,” she said. “But other than making edible Easter baskets we don’t go after the Easter market. It’s not that big,” she said.

Similarly, workers at Bartz-Viviano Flowers & Gifts in Toledo will make some Easter baskets, sell some Easter candy, and make some orchid and lily arrangements for the holiday, but the preparations will only be minor.

“Once upon a time Easter was a huge floral holiday,” said Elizabeth DeLapp, operations manager for Bartz-Viviano. “Women wore corsages and people bought plants. But today it doesn’t seem quite so large a floral holiday.

Churches still want Easter arrangements and a few customers will want figurines or baskets, but corsages are pretty much a thing of the past, Ms. DeLapp said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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