Holiday cards may contain more than greetings of the season.
They can include real purchasing power in the form of a gift card or gift certificate.
Larry Livingston of Livingston's Furniture in Gloversville said most people who buy gift cards from him buy them the week before Christmas.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Christine Maines, above, hostess at the Travers Restaurant in Gloversville, swipes a gift card to
activate it and add value to it for a customer Wednesday.
"It's a last-minute thing," Livingston said. "You see a lot of it just before Christmas."
Maggie Talbott has been working with the Gloversville Sewing Center for 18 years and agreed. She said gift cards often are last-minute purchases by husbands for his wives.
"It's basically because they don't know what to get and know this way they can't get the wrong gift," she said.
Livingston said his sale of gift certificates is not a large part of store sales, but can be a practical gift item in tough economic times.
Paul Kisielis of Meatland in Broadalbin said he sells a lot of gift certificates year-round, not just at holidays.
"We sell tons of gift certificates," he said. "They are greatly appreciated."
Kisielis said one reason gift certificates sell well is because they are a good value.
"Food is something you use anyway," he said.
Sometimes there are extras that come as part of buying a gift certificate or card.
At Travers Diner Restaurant in Gloversville, when customers purchase a $30 gift card, they can get $8.99 off one meal, said Manager Lisa Seelow.
Talbott said there also is a 10 percent discount on gift cards for those who are members of any sewing or quilt guild.
Travers honors out-of-date gift cards, but some places strictly require gift cards be used within a year.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he never wants to see consumers holding a gift card with no value.
Dierdre Murphy, Schumer's upstate press secretary, said the senator sponsored legislation - the Fair Gift Card Act - to protect consumers and keep businesses from taking payment on merchandise that was never delivered.
The legislation is intended to keep gift cards from losing value over time or having fees attached to them, she said.
According to a news release from Schumer, gift cards are popular gifts, but studies have shown that 27 percent of gift cards bought during the holiday season go unused, due in part to expiration dates and fees that lessen cards' value.
Schumer's bill would help consumers by prohibiting excessive fees and ensuring that all cards remain valid for at least five years, said Murphy.
"The Fair Gift Card Act will ensure that gift cards serve their purpose - to allow recipients to spend the full value at the store whenever it is convenient for them," Schumer said in the news release.
His proposal would not go into effect until at least 2009, Murphy said.
At the Rail Yard Restaurant in Gloversville, owner Don Blanchard said he sells a "nice volume" of gift certificates.
"I think we are doing pretty well in this economy," Blanchard said.
He has put up a billboard emphasizing the gift certificates on West Fulton Street near the restaurant. He also has smaller signs around the city advertising the certificates.
"We're a little business, but we plan to stay here," he said.
Blanchard said the gift certificates are discounted so a customer can buy four certificates at $10, $25 or $30 each and get one free.
"It's an incentive to keep [gift certificate sales] going," Blanchard said.
It's important to people that the place where they buy a gift card still will be in business when the recipient is ready to redeem the card.
Wally Hart, president of the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said the availability of outlets to use the gift certificates issued by the chamber, called Chamber Checks, adds to their value.
Even if a couple of businesses on the chamber's list aren't there next year, most of the more than 100 on the list still will be in operation.
"We're definitely selling more gift [certificates] this year," Hart said. "People who are nervous about any national chains not being here when they go to redeem their checks don't have to worry about Chamber Checks - we'll still be here.
"We started with 35 businesses as part of the plan and now have more than 100," Hart said. "We've sold more than 4,000 certificates so far this year."
Hart said his goal is to sell $100,000 worth of the certificates.
"It's part of our mission to [stimulate] the local economy," he said.
Michelle Marotta of Gloversville said she has a big Italian family, and giving gift certificates makes holiday gift giving much easier.
"Elderly people and those who 'have everything' are always hard to buy for," Marotta said. "Gift certificates make it easy for them to pick and choose what they want."
Becky Dutcher of Gloversville said gift certificates also make buying gifts easier.
"Last year I bought one for my father," she said. "I've also bought them for my in-laws."
Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.