Three-year-old Caroline Henley has a big job to do this weekend. Not only is it Mother's Day, but her mom is Amanda Henley, who's graduating with a master's degree from the College of Charleston.
Grandma will be in town. So will her great-grandmother, among 20 assorted relatives in a rented house on Folly Beach. Aunt Sophia Lee won't be much help -- she's graduating from the college with a double major. Dad is doing what he can. But he's a manager at Garibaldi's, and the Market Street restaurant is slammed with reservations.
But Jacob Henley sat his daughter down and explained how important this weekend is, and how it's a chance to tell mom how much they love her and how much she means to them. Caroline figured it out quickly. Will mom get cake?, she asked. Yes, she will.
"Can we share a cake with mommy?," Caroline asked.
Across the country, customers appear to be spending a little bit more than last year for Mother's Day, following a similar trend for Valentine's Day, Easter and St. Patrick's Day, according to a National Retail Federation survey. The average is $126.90, about $3 more than last year.
In the Lowcountry, it might be better than that.
Along with Mother's Day, this weekend features graduation ceremonies at the College of Charleston, The Citadel and Trident Technical College. And a number of high schools are holding proms. At Goldberry's Florist & Gifts in Summerville, with Confederate jasmine blooming in the archway outside, manager Cathy Burnett found herself swallowed in so many blooms that it was hard to determine just by looking at them which ones go with which occasion.
The last-minute splurge on flowers or gifts hasn't hit her or other retailers yet. But most of a handful who were surveyed Wednesday said both business and customer mood seem to be up from last year. More people are buying and they're picking items beyond the good-enough gift, such as stainless steel cookware or a pricey bracelet.
"Much better, oh my gosh, it's so much better," said Mariana Hay, Croghan's Jewel Box owner on King Street, who estimated business had improved 15 percent. "Last year our sky was doom and gloom. This year it's bright and cheerful. I think a lot of people feel they have been through the worst. They want to reward their wife, their mother, their graduate with something special."
John Pitner, co-owner of Coastal Cupboard kitchen store in Mount Pleasant, said the holiday business was up more than 12 percent amid a 30 percent improvement overall from last year. In the worst of the recession, the shop was selling "good" merchandise, he said. Now it's selling more "better" and "best."
At the Bird's Nest floral and gift shop in Ladson, owner Sandra Bird hasn't seen an uptick yet.
But Beryl Foster, administrative assistant for Keepsakes Florist on James Island, said the shop was seeing a sharp pickup.
Burnett said her business was about the same but she expected a strong weekend "because everyone loves to remember their mom," she said.
Meanwhile, Amanda Henley and Sophia Lee have talked about shopping together for mom. But neither has had a moment to breathe, between papers and last-minute details. How is she keeping her head together?
"I'm not sure it is still together," Henley said. But one thing's for sure, "I certainly think we're going to add to some consumer spending for the next week."