Local businesses find holidays create big demand for mail orders
These are busy days at local stores that cater to gift-givers shopping for people for whom “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is just a song title.
Just like those boxes of cookies mom used to send, food from home is a welcome gift this season.
For anyone with Port Washington roots, few tastes capture the flavor of home better than smoked fish — as the harried crew at Ewig Bros. Fish Co. can attest.
“We do ship a lot of smoked fish, primarily salmon and whitefish, this time of year. Recently, we’ve sent packages to California and New Mexico,” Jeff Ewig said.
The family business has specialized in fish from Lake Michigan since setting up shop in Port in 1894.
Just three years ago, it created a Web site that makes the local products available to customers around the country.
In addition to the favorites, orders can also be placed for smoked lake trout, smoked Alaskan salmon and frozen perch fillets — all in three-pound minimums — as well as jars of fish spread.
“People usually know just what they want. We have one woman who calls every year and has us ship two heads-on salmon,” Ewig said.
Although the on-line orders are a bonus for the business, he said they probably account for only about 10% of their total trade.
“We sell a lot of fish at the retail store, and pack and ship a lot of the fish caught by sport fishermen during the fishing season,” Ewig said.
Catering to on-line cravings is the strong suit of Fireworks Popcorn, which thrives on the gift demands of the holiday season.
“At this time of year, every Monday we ship something like 400 packages,” said Ann Chrusciel, co-owner and manager of the retail store on Grand Avenue.
“The one thing people are looking for more than just a gift is the ability to share an experience, and for a lot of people that can be summed up in popcorn. It brings back memories of family movie nights.”
The store opened in Port three years ago, but its primary presence is in the cyber-world.
“We regularly get orders from all over the country, and that has only increased after we got some national exposure,” Chrusciel said.
After getting a nod from Martha Stewart magazine, she recalls getting an order from a woman from New York City.
“She couldn’t believe a store from her little hometown was famous,” Chrusciel said.
She said the store makes a point of noting that it is made in Port Washington on all of its labels.
The store specializes in gift packages, which include varieties of popcorn and seasonings. The current best seller is the “Maize Trio.”
The shop also offers popcorn poppers, microwave bowls and a variety of other containers.
The most expensive gift item it offers is a Rowe Pottery popcorn bowl, which sells for $49.
Although popcorn is a fluffy treat, Chrusciel said people forget how heavy unpopped corn is until they try to ship it themselves.
“Popcorn can be expensive to ship. It is like shipping rocks. We usually have very good shipping rates if you have someone from out of town who is hard to shop for. I mean, who doesn’t love popcorn?” Chrusciel asked.
Orders placed with the store by Dec. 17 should arrive by Christmas, she said.
Bernie’s Fine Meats owner Steve Bennett gives a lot of thought to presentation when putting together the popular gift boxes sent from the Franklin Street store.
“In a lot of cases, it is like having a party in a box with everything included — sausage, cheese, crackers and even the cheese spreader,” Bennett said.
He and his wife Sandy purchased the meat market from John and Jan Salchert five years ago, and in that time the business has evolved to reach new clients.
“Five years ago, we shipped about 500 gift boxes, but last year we shipped more than 1,200 boxes. So far this year, it has been a little weak but there is still time and this weekend we already have orders to put together 350 boxes,” Bennett said.
He said there can be a bit of frenzy at the shop on Saturdays, when as many as 10 people — family, friends and employees — get together to prepare packages.
Bennett said one of the most popular gift items the store makes is “The Entertainer,” an eight-pound package that includes an assortment of homemade garlic summer sausage, smoked roast chicken, fresh liver sausage, sharp cheddar and Swiss
almond cheese spreads, chocolate-covered cherries and crackers.
“Just about all the packages we offer include meats we prepared at our shop. In every case, they are all the things we love to eat, even if we shouldn’t all the time,” Bennett said.
“I can’t tell you how many times people have come in and said they need a gift for someone who has everything. They know what they would really like is something from home that reminds them of the tastes from their past.”
PORT WASHINGTON BUSINESSES that offer mail-order delivery find the weeks before Christmas are an especially busy time. Jeff Ewig of Ewig Bros. Fish Co. prepared a package of smoked whitefish for delivery this week. Below, Pat Buechler and Aaron Rindt know that orders before the holidays can really pile up at Fireworks Popcorn. Photos by Mark Jaeger