Valentine’s Day is coming up. These local businesses will make your gift extra sweet

From handmade pies to locally arranged flowers, this list will guide you through Tuscaloosa’s most romantic, locally-sourced gifts.

Valentine%27s+Day+is+coming+up.+These+local+businesses+will+make+your+gift+extra+sweet

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, which means it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to make the day special for yourself or your loved ones.  

According to a 2021 National Retail Federation (NRF) survey, American consumers “plan to spend an average of $164.76 on their loved ones” this Valentine’s Day. 

With 52% of Americans planning to celebrate the holiday, that’s a $21.8 billion market.   

The NRF survey also found that 24% of those not celebrating Valentine’s Day are still planning to mark the day by treating themselves, getting together with friends or family or buying an “anti-Valentine’s Day gift.”  

Of course it’s tempting to buy everything you need at a one-stop shop like Amazon, but this year, consider supporting one of these local businesses instead.

Classic Gifts

FLOWERS 

Instead of buying the classic Valentine’s Day gift of a flower arrangement from Amazon try Amy’s Florist.  

Amy’s Florist is family owned and operated, and according to their website has been “proudly serving Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas since 1988.” 

Amy’s will be dedicating all of Valentine’s Week to selling roses, a Valentine’s favorite, along with balloons, animals and candy. 

As an affordable option, customers can select the “Thoughts Of You Bouquet With Red Roses” for only $21.99. However, those looking to spend more can purchase a bouquet of two dozen long stemmed red roses for that special someone. 

Amy’s will deliver anywhere in Tuscaloosa or Northport. Just make sure you place your order at least one day before Valentine’s Day.

CANDY

Why give your valentine a box of chocolates or candy bouquet from a big box chain store when you can find freshly baked sweets right here in town at Mary’s Cakes & Pastries

While Mary’s Cakes and Pastries specializes in made-to-order cakes for special occasions, according to their website, the bakery also bakes dessert cakes each day to have on hand for “last minute celebrations – or when you just need some cake.” 

Dessert cakes are $29.95, feed 10-12 people and range in flavors from red velvet with cream cheese icing to chocolate with vanilla buttercream. The bakery will even pipe a personalized message on the top of a dessert cake, so your valentine will never know you picked it up at the last minute.

Not everyone is a fan of cake, so Mary’s also specializes in iced shortbread cookies, which cost $29.50 per dozen but can be customized with unique writing and images for a higher price.   

Customers that can’t make it to the bakery can order online or over the phone, choose from a selection of paleo and gluten-free pastries for their friend with dietary restrictions then have their order conveniently delivered with UberEats.  

But if you really want to wow your valentine, opt for the bakery’s customized cookies and cakes; just place your order as soon as you can!    

FRUIT BASKETS 

Fruit baskets can be a thoughtful, colorful Valentine’s Day gift for those who don’t like sweets or flowers, and it’s easy to put one together yourself.

Ingram Farms, run by the Ingram family, sells fruits and vegetables grown on its own land, as well as produce acquired from other local farms. 

“The Ingram family has a long history of farming in the Tuscaloosa, Alabama area, so we know quality produce,” their website states. “We only stock our produce stand with the best assortments of fruits and vegetables around.” 

In fact, its website touts that it carries “fresh fruits and vegetables all year long.” 

Head on up to the Ingram Farms Market to pick up apples, pears and oranges to fill your basket, and treat yourself to a scoop of Blue Bell Ice Cream while you’re there. 

Grabbing a Bite to Eat

BREAKFAST

Just Love Coffee Cafe, according to its website, “brings a unique blend of delicious food, award-winning coffee, and a sense of community” according to its website, which makes it the perfect new coffee shop to try for Valentine’s Day. 

UA graduates and brothers Jack and Alex Roberts opened the Tuscaloosa franchise of Just Love Coffee Cafe in December, in honor of their late father. 

“Throughout our childhood, we experienced the pure joy that our father created through his perfected process of preparing, grilling and serving food to both old and new friends,” its website explains. “He had a natural ability to bring people together. With his sudden passing from a tragic car accident in the spring of 2020, we instantly recognized that the compassion, hospitality and quality of the Just Love brand would be the ideal way to carry on his legacy and make him proud.” 

The menu offers a wide range of breakfast, lunch and dinner options, but one thing ties all of it together: waffles. 

Of course, you can choose between the Fruity Pebbles and Cream Waffle, served with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and powdered sugar, or the Flyin’ Pig Waffle, stuffed with bacon, sausage and egg, but you can also lunch on a sandwich pressed with the shop’s signature waffle iron. 

If you aren’t a breakfast person, you can still enjoy the specialty coffee, which is all roasted by hand and either fair trade, organic or direct trade.

Sit down for a cup of dark roast with your valentine, then take a bag to go.

DINNER AND DRINKS

Located right down the street from Chuck’s Fish and Half Shell Oyster House, Urban Bar & Kitchen (UBK) is a more intimate spot for dinner and cocktails, without the crowds or the wait.

“This must be the place” is the tagline of UBK, which just opened its doors to the Tuscaloosa community in January. 

Owners Gary McGee and Grover Ryans previously ran The Levee Bar & Grill before it closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

UBK has a lighter, more earthy atmosphere than The Levee, which compliments its updated versions of the former restaurant’s popular dishes, like fried green tomatoes, bacon and pimento cheese bombs and cajun pasta.  

“We’re going to focus on Southern comfort foods with a hint of seafood on the menu and certain good down-home food dishes like Grandmama used to make for us,” McGee told WVUA 23.

UBK also offers an extensive bar menu, including wine, draft and craft beers, specialty cocktails and frozen drinks. 

Mimosas and Bloody Marys are served all day on Sundays too, including this Valentine’s Day. 

Whether you’re looking for a spot for date night or girl’s night on Valentine’s Day, “this must be the place.” 

HOMESTYLE DESSERT

Courtesy of Portly Pies

Valentine’s Day can mean crowded restaurants and long wait times. If you and your loved ones opt for a quiet home-cooked meal instead, make sure you don’t forget to pick up dessert. 

Conor Caffrey, a junior majoring in accounting, operates a homemade pie business called Portly Pies out of an apartment on McFarland, and Caffrey said it beats out the grocery store competition in quality and personalization. 

“Not only do they taste better than the syrupy and preservative pumped pies at supermarkets, but I can easily account for clients’ dietary needs or omit ingredients that the customer does not like,” Caffrey said. “Another thing I pride myself in is presentation. At the buyer’s request, I can customize the crust’s rim and top with designs, patterns and lettering.”

Caffrey makes all the pies from scratch using fresh fruit and high-quality ingredients, and said they are ideal for gifts. 

“My favorite thing about making other people pies is that each time, even using the same recipe, they come out a little bit different,” Caffrey said. “Like snowflakes, no two are the same. When I bake a pie for someone, it’s special because it’s exclusively made for them and those they choose to share it with. You can’t preserve it, or frame it or pass it around for hundreds to enjoy. It’s from my oven to you, and you alone. That’s what makes my pies so special, and what makes them so much better than the mass produced pastries you find in stores.” 

To place your order, email portlypies@gmail.com

Give Something One of a Kind

CANDLES

Courtesy of Araya Sunshine Candle Co.

Candles are great universal gifts, and Yolanda Knox’s Araya Sunshine Candle Company has clean candles with unique scents for all of your valentines and galentines. 

Knox, a self-described candle addict, said she started the business, which is named after her granddaughters, with just $100 and a goal of creating candles with fewer chemicals and additives than large retailers. 

She said she launched the business just days before the U.S. started instituting COVID-19 shut-downs, but luckily her sales numbers stayed strong because people were spending more time at home and using more candles. 

All of Knox’s candles are handmade with natural soy, cotton core wicks and over 37 different fragrances free of cancer-causing chemicals.  

Knox operates entirely out of her apartment, where she wicks the candles, mixes the fragrances, melts and pours the wax and designs all the labels. 

“Everything’s a science,” Knox said. “You have to test, and then test some more and then test again.”

Customers place their orders online or over the phone for candles, wax melts and candle and wax warmers. They can then arrange to pick up their order, have their order delivered for free if they spend over $50 or have their order shipped to them.  

“When you buy a candle, you want to make sure it smells good,” Knox said. “I’ve been told, and it’s true, that with my candles, you can take the lid off and not light it and let it just sit, and you can still smell it.”

Two of the company’s most popular scents are Volcano, which has a fragrant tropical smell, and Feel the Love, which has citrus and musk tones. But Knox also has subtler scents like Eucalyptus Spearmint and Lavender Sage. 

For Valentine’s Day, Knox recommends one of her gift boxes, which can be customized with different scents, or a monthly subscription box for the candle-obsessed.  

To place an order with Araya Sunshine Candle Company, visit the business’ website or Facebook page, or stop by its next pop-up shop on Feb. 13 at the Bobby Miller Activity Center, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. 

JEWELRY

Valentine’s Day isn’t just for couples; this year, remember to treat your galentines.

Pause Boutique is an independent, local shop that sells clothes, shoes, jewelry and more. Its downtown storefront is currently closed due to COVID-19, but customers can still shop the store’s entire inventory online.

All of your friends are unique, and at Pause you can celebrate that by picking out unique accessories that fit each of their styles. 

Buy the Beaded Green Palm Leaves statement earrings for your sorority sister who is always at the beach, the Tiny Linked Circles necklace for your roommate who likes to keep her looks simple, and the Bolt Cut Out Studs for your edgy gal pal.

To shop Pause Boutique’s online inventory, visit the business’ website or Facebook page

CLOTHING

Courtesy of Alabama Vintage.

He might not say so, but the last thing your boyfriend needs is another tie. Instead, find him something one of a kind that he’ll actually want to wear everyday at Alabama Vintage. 

“Alabama Vintage is a throwback clothing and memorabilia store located in the heart of downtown Tuscaloosa,” owner Charlie Nelson said. “We hand pick and source all of our inventory to provide the best pieces from the ‘80s and ‘90s to our customers.”

Nelson started the business online before moving into a permanent storefront on University Boulevard in January.  

“We’re so grateful for the support from UA students and the whole Tuscaloosa community,” Nelson said. 

Alabama Vintage sells t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, hats and more, all of which are available for purchase online and through Instagram if you can’t make it downtown.  

Editor’s Note: An initial version of this story referred to Araya Sunshine Candle Company as ‘Aryah Sunshine Candle Company.’ We regret that error and have since corrected it.