The pressure is on Lisa Hodes.
She owns Sweeties Candy Cottage in Huntington. She's also mom to two boys, Cole, 12, and Quinn, 9, who are spending their first summer at sleepaway camp. So, come visiting day later this month, the Hodes boys' bunkmates probably will have high expectations of what their mom brings as a gift.
Visiting day - which occurs about midway through the summer - gives parents a chance to see their children for a few hours. And it's the rare Mom or Dad who comes empty-handed. A number of stores on Long Island specialize in packing up elaborate gift baskets to present to the children.
Some camps have tried to discourage the candy aspect by banning it entirely or requiring that all the candy be eaten on visiting day. Store owners such as Hodes have responded by creating baskets that also focus on toys and camp-color related paraphernalia. Still, candy is king. "It's like Halloween," Hodes says. "They eat as much as they can that day."
Here a sampling of this year's "Visiting Day" options:
Hodes created a "Pop More Volcano" for $30, which has a base of popcorn pie covered in three kinds of chocolate and M&Ms, topped with a second layer of s'mores pie. Caramel is drizzled over the top like lava. Parents like to munch the goodies with their kids while they're hanging out in the bunk talking, Hodes says. "This is an easy thing to peel apart with your hands or a plastic fork," she says. Some toys she's including in gift baskets this year: the Boom Ball, a paddle that makes a loud whack when the ball hits it, and the FlingIt boomerang. She also tucks in stationery and Mad Libs games.
It looks like a cardboard fast-food tray filled with four drinks, but the cups in the Candy Cooler Platter at My Candi are actually filled with about four pounds of jelly beans, gumballs and Swedish fish, and topped with rock candy that looks like ice. ($25.99). Owner Dave Mayo also created a "candy bouquet" made from Twizzlers, M&Ms, Sour Patch Kids and other candies for $15.99, and a candy tower built on a pool toy and topped with a Whirly Pop lollipop for $24.99.
Aside from candy and toys, visiting day is the time parents bring up supplies and paraphernalia for camp Color War, an Olympics-style, weeklong competition that splits the camp into two teams, one for each of the camp's signature colors. It happens at some point after visiting day. "Color War is huge," says Renee Arje, Inmotion owner. "It's the culmination of the whole summer." There's color war nail polish, face paint, hair spray, socks, tattoos, bracelets and head bands. An autograph pillow is also a common visiting day gift from Mom and Dad, Arje says, so camp friends can sign it at the end of the summer.
The Sweet Spot Shoppe packs up goodies in a Styrofoam cooler and airbrushes the child's name or the name of the camp on the front. The coolers are lightweight, which makes them easy to carry, and big, which makes them easy to pack, says owner Gary Rosen. Some of the hot toys he's packing in coolers (along with the requisite candy) for visiting day this year are a Zartz, a suction-darts game, for $9.95, the Zyclone watergun toy for $29.95, and Top Trumps, a card game, for $7.95. Coolers run $75 to $200, depending on what's inside.
The gift baskets at Infiiity can be packed in a re-usable wood Yankees crate that the campers can use for storage when all the M&Ms, Blow Pops, Starbursts and other candies are gone. It includes toys such as a mini-kickball with a Yankees logo and Mad Libs for $144. Infinity also suggests water bottles customized with the camp name for $24, and feather boas for color war for $5.
Owner Stephanie Bangel hands parents a two-page list of available candy for visiting day. Parents circle the candies their kids like, then tell Bangel how much they want to spend, and hand in the list. Bangel then puts together a customized cooler filled with the favorites that Mom and Dad pick up when it’s ready.