Nonstandard wedding gifts reflect couples' true interests

Posted: Sunday, May 18, 2003

ANCHORAGE It used to be that newlyweds signed up with a gift registry for sets of crystal and china. But more than half of marriages today are between people who have been living together and may not need a toaster, blender or champagne flutes.

''Most people these days don't need a full set of crystal unless they do a lot of entertaining,'' said event planner Amie Haakenson. ''They're better off with a crock pot and a mop.''

Various businesses have stepped up recently to offer couples options that better reflect their needs, tastes or lifestyles, and to catch a share of the $19 billion that industry sources say is spent annually on wedding registries.

Instead of sheets, how about Sheetrock? Or a canoe instead of candle holders? A safari instead of salt and pepper shakers?

Home Depot, Recreational Equipment Inc. and Allways Travel, here in Anchorage, are some of the businesses that offer less-than-traditional gift registries.

Haakenson said her sister, who lives in New York, took advantage of Home Depot's program to request items like Sheetrock for an addition to the home she and her fiance shared.

Sporting goods retailer REI found word of mouth helped its fledgling registry program grow by 15 percent annually in recent years, said company spokesperson Mike Foley.

The registry started informally in the mid-1980s when some staffers were getting married, he said. ''They wanted some cool gear, not so much household stuff.''

Apparently, so do a lot of other couples.

Popular items include headlamps, tents, sleeping bags and cooking gear. Techie items are another hot category.

A revamped online registry will be rolled out this September after more than two years and millions of dollars overhauling the technology behind the service, Foley said. The upgrade isn't just for the wedding market; it also will support new services such as a way to post expedition shopping lists for everyone from mountaineers planning big climbs to Boy Scout troops.

Second marriages were part of the impetus to start a honeymoon registry at Allways Travel, said manager Cindy Kroon at an Anchorage bridal fair last Sunday.

''So many clients do their honeymoons through us and can't afford what they really want,'' Kroon said.

''There's gift registries everywhere else,'' she said the travel agency's staffers said to themselves, so why not at Allways?

Friends and family can contribute toward the whole package or buy a piece, like a night's stay along the way. Allways then makes up a card the gift giver can pass to the bride and bridegroom.

Tradition has it that registry information is not printed in the wedding invitation, said Haakenson, the event planner. Instead, guests can check with family or friends.

That said, this is Alaska.

''The wedding world in Alaska is different from anywhere else,'' Haakenson said. ''I've gotten invitations saying, 'Please bring cash,' or 'Requesting donations of $20s and $50s.''' She tells brides what etiquette dictates, then tells them they can do whatever they want.

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