Easter baskets aren't just for children anymore. They're for anyone who wants to celebrate the spring holiday with the taste of chocolate or other sweets. And, increasingly, adults are getting in on the tradition.
Not satisfied with the usual, factory-made and mass-marketed marshmallow Peeps and chocolate bunnies, more Lawrence residents are seeking unusual, upscale and sophisticated treats to fill Easter baskets for friends and loved ones.
It's a trend that Monica Istas has noticed in the weeks preceding Easter.
"I get a lot of (orders for) adult baskets, probably more than I get for kids. They're just something to give your wife, your secretary. Some people spend $50 on adult baskets. When they're buying (fancy) candy like that, I know it's for adults," says Istas, co-owner of Penny Annie's Sweet Shoppe, 845 Mass.
"Because for kids, anything's good enough for them, even just a sucker -- as long as it's sweet and sticky."
It's much the same story at Russell Stover Candies, 1300 W. 23rd St.
The store carries about 40 different Easter or spring-related products, many of which are made in Russell Stover's factories. But the goodies that seem to be drawing the most attention from customers this Easter are the handmade, specialty treats from the Lawrence store's in-house candy kitchen.
In a glass case that's filled with colorful, seasonal candy, customers can browse among a trove of treats that are perfect for filling Easter baskets: dark-chocolate lambs and crosses; bunny-faced chocolate suckers; chocolate-dipped Oreo cookies with molded sugar decorations of bunnies, chicks and ducklings; white-chocolate butterflies and Easter eggs; and vivid yellow-colored chocolate sunflowers.
Most of the candies in the store's seasonal case sell for $9.96 per pound.
"I think the candy kitchen is a huge draw for the store. Everything that we do here is done with fresh ingredients and in small batches, and some people really like that approach," says Todd Edgerton, candy kitchen coordinator.
Au Marche the European Market, 931 Mass., carries a variety of Easter chocolates and other treats that cater to a more sophisticated sweet tooth.
Au Marche will put together Easter gift boxes filled with Swiss, German and Austrian candies. The boxes cost from $30 to $45. Customers can choose what they would like to put into their Easter boxes, which are made of wood and carry the Au Marche logo, a fleur-de-lis.
Among the seasonal treats that are available: foil-wrapped Lindt chocolates shaped like bugs and bees, $3.80 per package; 3.5-ounce Lindt milk- or dark-chocolate, foil-wrapped bunnies, $4.70 each; chocolate ladybugs, $2.75 each; milk-chocolate carrots with hazelnuts, 79 cents each; and hand-crafted suckers decorated with bunnies, chicks and lambs, $3 each.
"I think we're going to do excellent (with the special Easter candies). We put them out a week ago, and they're half gone," says Lora Wiley, owner of Au Marche.
The big hit at the store this Easter is a treat called Kinder Surprise.
Costing $1.75 apiece, they are milk-chocolate eggs from Germany. Inside each one is a yellow capsule that looks like an egg yolk, and hidden within the capsule is a tiny toy that you put together according to the included instructions.
In recent days, the store has sold four cases of the Kinder Surprise eggs, which come 72 eggs to a case.
"Of the four cases we've sold, most of them have been sold to adults. The toys are collectible, so people buy them for the toy," Wiley says.
Nobody outgrows chocolate
There are plenty of Easter treats on display at Penny Annie's that customers can choose among to fill their holiday baskets.
An entire shelf is laden with more than 30 different seasonal products, including jelly beans, suckers and many chocolates in the form of carrots, eggs, ladybugs, bunnies and ducklings.
"It's kind of special here, because you can pick what you want in your Easter basket, and your price range. It's a little nicer," Istas says.
Her customers typically spend from $15 to $25 to fill an Easter basket with treats and have it decorated with colored cellophane, ribbons, bows and balloons.
She estimates that she might put together 20 to 25 Easter baskets as the holiday approaches, as well as trays and decorative tins filled with candies.
Two of the more unusual products the store is carrying are a Panoramic Easter Egg for $11.99 (a 9-ounce egg made of confectioner's sugar with a little Easter scene visible inside it), and milk-chocolate truffles from Germany encased in real, brightly colored eggshells ($3.49 each). You have to crack the egg and peel off the shell in order to get to the chocolate.
At Russell Stover Candies, the store is similarly loaded with products to fill Easter baskets, from stuffed animals to every size and kind of chocolate bunny imaginable.
Customers can choose from a variety of decorated baskets that come already packaged from a Russell Stover factory and cost from $12 to $25. Or they can build their own, picking specialty items from the candy kitchen or elsewhere in the store.
"You could go from $10 to $50, depending on what you put in there. I could make a nice basket for $50," says Carole Morgan, the store's manager.
"People want more stuff in them, and we put more in there. I don't think you can have too much in a basket."
She estimates that the store has put together about 50 Easter baskets so far this year.
"I like to do the adult ones -- then you can get into some really nice things," Morgan says. "I have a gentleman who buys one every year for his wife. I don't think anybody really outgrows chocolate