Sunday, December 4, 2005

Deck The Halls with Boughs, Brownies

Deck the halls with boughs, brownies

Ahh, Christmas. 'Tis the season for -- statistics?

You probably have read the reports that said the holiday shopping season is off to a promising start. Visa USA said card purchases at more than 6 million retail merchants jumped 11 percent from last year, to $3.7 billion for the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, reported that a record 10 million people shopped the discount store before noon Friday.

What about sales in our neck of the woods?

I knew there were at least two success stories: Moveable Feast, a gourmet catering and to-go shop on Franklin Street in Geneva, and Geneva Greenhouse on Western Avenue.

Moveable Feast got its Christmas present early. Just before Thanksgiving, its Deeply Fudgey Brownies were named to Oprah's List of Favorite Things.

To fill orders for the throngs of customers who descended on the tiny shop, owners Kim and Matt Lennert set up a tent outside. Inside, they hung a sign, "Oprah for president."

I sent my own e-mail to friends with the results of my taste-test: "Oprah brownies.mine eyes have seen the glory."

Matt said he prefers not to give out sales figures but said this to say about their good fortune:

"Sales have been very good. Our mail order is doing really well. We're very happy and are just doing our best to make sure the quality is good and that we are still providing great service to our existing customers."

The brownies, which started at $12 a box, quickly jumped to $15. One employee said the increase reflected production costs associated with contracting outside to make enough brownies to keep up with demand.

Geneva Greenhouse does not keep statistics on the numbers of wreaths, roping, poinsettias and other holiday greenery and d & eacute;cor items it sells, but general manager Craig MacLean said each year gets busier and busier.

Stepping inside the Greenhouse is like entering Santa's workshop. Dozens of elves (okay, holiday helpers) work the backrooms to create hundreds of custom wreaths, roping, potted urns and other displays. The phone rings constantly. More orders. Everybody wants them now.

"We're crazy enough to take the time to make them by hand and so you get a really thick, beautiful garland custom-made just the way you want it," MacLean said.

Staff members clip and cut and prepare the greenery for arrangements. The Greenhouse employs another handful of floral designers who add the finishing touches.

The greenhouse's reindeer lawn ornaments constructed of greens and pinecones and tied with a big red ribbon always are big sellers.

"We just can't make enough of them," MacLean said. "Last year, we sent one to the White House and they displayed it on the lawn, which was a big deal around here. Now the orders just keep coming and coming. Some people want entire families of them."

This year, the greenhouse is introducing a horse version. MacLean said they gallop off as soon as they hit the floor.

While the greenhouse does not sell full-size Christmas trees (they sell table top versions), in the interest of statistics (it is the holidays, after all) here are a few to keep your left brain amused between the bouts of shopping stress and general holiday malaise that is your due when the VISA bill arrives:

* 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.

* 330,000 real Christmas trees are sold via e-commerce or catalogue and shipped mail-order.

* The top selling Christmas trees are: balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine, and white pine.

* Consumers can locate the nearest Christmas tree recycling program by visiting or calling (877) 327-8491. (see NOTE)

NOTE: Information from USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service and The National Christmas Tree Association.

* Susan Wassel lives in Geneva with her husband and three children. She owns a public relations company, E-mail her at

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