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Valentine's Day: Sweet times for businesses
• $1.9 billion on flowers.
• $4.4 billion on jewelry.
• $1.6 billion on clothes.
• $1.5 billion on gift cards.
Valentine's Day has arrived, and for many residents, that means picking up red and white boxes labeled Little Farmhouse Candies from a shop that's been open since the '50s in downtown Marysville.
At the Candy Box on D Street, the store's signature McIntosh turtles — made from pecans, caramel and chocolate — are the top-sellers. The shop produces up to 150 pounds of turtles daily during the Valentine's Day rush. With 18 turtles in each pound, the result is about 2,700 total.
On a normal day, owner Ethel Padgett said, the store produces more than half of that amount.
The National Retail Federation reported last month that 51 percent of Valentine's Day gift givers in the United States will buy $1.6 billion in candy. Based on a study by BIGinsight, the federation said there's only a slight increase in expected sales this year, with an average person planning to spend $130.97 on gifts, up from $126.03 last year.
Julie Jenkins-Ahonen, a manager at the Cookie Tree in Yuba City, said they've been busy this year, noting there's always a market for comfort food.
"We thought we'd have a drop-down when the economy went bad, but actually it went up," she said.
So far this week, she said, the Cookie Tree has used up eight 50-pound bags each of flour and sugar. Bakers at the store Tuesday had been there since 5 a.m.
"The 13th and 14th are always the busiest for us," said Jenkins-Ahonen around Valentine's Day, who's been with the business for 12 years. "On the 15th as well because of forgotten gifts."
Owner Sue Smith of Gridley said the store has never had a gross year less than the one before. She's owned the business since December 1981, and said although Valentine's Day used to be the store's single-busiest day, the crunch is now at Christmas.
As of Tuesday, she said, there were 60 pages of advance orders.
Amos is famous at Cookie Tree
Cookie Tree owner Sue Smith's grandson, 19-year-old Amos Smith of Yuba City, spent time at the store as a baby and is now behind the scenes — in his seventh year of working there.
Amos Smith said when friends find out his grandmother owns a cookie store, he immediately gets questions like, "Can I get a job?" or "Can I get some cookies?"
"I grew up eating it (cookies) all the time," Amos Smith said. "A treat for someone else is normal to me."
Meanwhile, Candy Box owner Ethel Padgett's grandson, 22-year-old William Huefner, has been with the shop since he was 12 years old, coming by to work after school and helping out for the holidays. These days, his other job wraps up at 10 p.m. but his work as a confectioner can sometimes keep him there until 3 a.m.
"One time I stayed here until 7 o'clock (a.m.) during Christmas," Huefner said.
After prepping more turtles on Tuesday, Huefner and co-worker Gretchen Hill went to work dipping 21⁄2 crates worth of strawberries in chocolate, saying they would probably have to purchase more later in the day and that the year prior, about 10 cases were used.
"The entire time I was growing up, I just didn't like it (candy)," Huefner said.
But after working at his grandmother's store, he said, "I fell in love with it."
"I like to ask if the significant other has a nut allergy," Candy Box employee Gretchen Hill said, when asked about what she suggests for customers.
Hill said a man came in one year to buy his girlfriend's Valentine's Day gift, only to find later she was allergic to nuts. Because of that, the shop switched out his order with different candies.
Yuba City resident Robert Kimball III and his father, Robert Kimball Jr. of Olivehurst, visited the Candy Box together Tuesday to order McIntosh turtles for their respective girlfriends. The elder Kimball said the turtles are a stocking-stuffer at his home during Christmas.
At the Cookie Tree, Yuba City resident Debra Bagley was putting in an order for her son's girlfriend.
"He's a long-haul truck driver. I gave him the idea," Bagley said. "By the time he's 30, he can do this himself."
— Laura van der Meer