Feb. 7, 2012— -- intro: This Valentine's Day, rather than head over to a neighborhood store for the usual cards, candy and stuffed animals, consider purchasing gifts that show you're gung-ho about your loved ones AND your country.
"It is very important right now for us to fuel our own economy," said Julie Reiser, president of Made in USA Certified. "The right choice is to purchase 'made in the U.S.A.' It's a powerful way to create a lot of jobs here."
The National Retail Federation says that American shoppers are expected to spend an average of $126 on their loved ones this year, an increase of 8.5 percent from last year and the highest level of Valentine's Day purchasing in the 10-year history of the group's survey.
Reiser encouraged consumers to put that money to good use by supporting small and mid-size U.S. businesses.
If you don't know where to start, don't worry. We've got you covered.
From unique jewelry to teddy bears and chocolates, here is a gift guide to help you find something from the heart -- and the U.S.
"It really is a movement for change," Reiser said. "It's something that every single person can do at every level of income. ... It's mindful, meaningful. That's what Valentine's Day is all about."
quicklist: 1url: title: BBSweets Cookies
text: We found Brooke Bertelle's BBSweets treats on Etsy but she now has a website.
While a student in a baking and pastry program at Johnson and Wales, Bertelle of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., made decorated cookies to raise money for the Haiti relief project.
The business -- BBSweets -- quickly took off after people began asking her to make more.
It takes her a half-day to make 30 to 50 cookies and she works alone. They come individually wrapped and shipping takes three to five days. Customers can also ask her to create other designs.
Price: $3.75 for one; $55 for a dozen.
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quicklist: 2url: title: Hanky Panky
text: If you don't know about the Hanky Panky handshake, CEO Lida Orzeck says you need to get on board.
She and friend Gale Epstein started Hanky Panky 35 years ago, after Epstein sent Orzeck a white-and-gray embroidered bra and bikini set made from handkerchiefs.
Now the two have been coined "the Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniak of thongs." Their thongs are the company's most popular style -- and can also be personalized to say just about anything.
All of their intimate apparel is made in and around New York City and can be found in high-end department stores like Nordstrom, in specialty stores nationwide and online.
This Valentine's Day, the company is offering its thongs rolled up to look like a rose. They can be purchased in singles for $25 and as a bouquet of six or 12. And for the risque clientele, the company also offers an aftermidnight line that includes open bras, teddies, boy shorts and garter belts.
Price: Polka-Dot Heart Box with three low-rise thongs, $54; for more, check the website.
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quicklist: 3url: title: Steel Petal Press Greeting Cards
Shayna Norwood, the designer and printer of Steel Petal Press, started creating her cards in Chicago in 2008 when she was a full-time graduate student.
She uses an 1800s letterpress, which she said was an old style of printing that's starting to see a revival.
Norwood mixes the ink by hand, inks the press and trims, folds and packages the cards by hand. She even uses reclaimed paper made from a textile factory's leftover cotton scraps. Though she has a few interns, she usually works alone.
The "You're My Favorite" card is a staple through the year but is very popular for Valentine's Day. It's blank on the inside.
Price: $3.50 to $4.50 for one; discount for six cards. Find her on Etsy.
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quicklist: 4url: title: Vinca Jewelry
text: Diamonds may be a girl's best friend but Vinca's "diamond" earrings are the cheapest in the world and awesome.
In Austin, Texas, designer Amanda DiMova's company -- started in 2006 -- is named for the vinca, a little, five-petal flower.
She uses leather scraps, sterling silver, acrylic and exotic and fancy woods to create earrings, rings, necklaces and hair accessories. She even has earrings for little girls. Though DiMova uses assistants at times, she usually works alone.
The walnut animal earrings are really popular as are her wooden "diamond" earrings. But the "Love Keys" necklace and hoop earrings are one of a kind.
Price: Depends on pieces; check website.
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quicklist: 5url: title: Vermont Teddy Bear Co.
text: If you can't be with the one you love on Valentine's Day, let this little guy (or gal -- totally up to you) be the perfect substitute.
The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. was founded in 1981 by a father who was surprised to discover that all of the toys his son played with bore foreign labels. He started sewing bears in his house and selling them on the street and Vermont Teddy Bear was born.
Though it takes 14 minutes to make each bear, there are 15 steps to the process including being cut, stuffed and sewn. Wendy Duval, the public relations and communications manager, called the bears "an American icon." Like the one shown, the bears can be personalized and here's some good news for the procrastinators.
Customers can order as late as 8 p.m. Feb. 13 in order for their bear to arrive the following day.
Price: Check website.
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quicklist: 6url: title: All American Wineries
text: This holiday, Bob Hodge of All American Wineries suggests you skip the champagne and go for a domestic bubbly.
"For Valentine's Day, sparkling wine is always a wonderful experience, sort of like red roses," he said.
Hodge's website All American Wineries keeps track of the more than 6,000 wineries in the U.S. Every state has at least one. He suggested Mumm Napa or a sparkling wine from the Biltmore Estate, Childress Vineyards, Chateau Frank, Swedish Hill or Domain Ste Michelle.
"Sparkling wines will go with anything," Hodge said. "Steak and salmon are my two favorite meals. It makes any meal that much more elegant."
And to create Valentine's Day morning mimosas, toss in a splash of orange juice from Natalie's Orchid Island Juice Co. The juice is U.S. certified and only uses fresh oranges from Florida.
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quicklist: 7url: title: Bissinger's
text: A favorite of actress Lauren Bacall -- she really likes the bear claws -- and Louis XIV -- we're talking the French king, not the band -- this St. Louis, Mo.-based company sells its chocolates and gourmet candies all over the country.
Bissinger's makes its chocolates and marshmallows by hand and uses high-quality cocoa beans.
From the Valentine Petit Fours and Wine Grapes infused with Shiraz and covered in dark chocolate to the Signature Valentine's Day Collection and Marshmallow Hearts, there is a treat for everyone.
There are stores in Edina, Wis., and St. Louis. And this Valentine's Day, the company is pushing what communications manager Amanda Evans called "the Maryland Plaza-Bissinger's Experience," which marries chocolates and other desserts with wine for a real treat.
Price: Check website.
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quicklist: 8url: title: Black Halo
text: This Valentine's Day, wrap those just-bought Hanky Panky intimates -- and yourself -- in a figure-flattering sheath from Black Halo.
For nearly 10 years, Laurel Berman's company has brought the L.A. look to the masses -- and kept its business in the United States.
Black Halo's pieces -- like the "Dame" sheath shown above and the well-known Jackie O line -- marry sexy and casual for a style that transitions easily from work to night on the town.
Berman's dresses have been seen on Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks and Adriana Lima. Black Halo is offering 15 percent off online plus free shipping through Feb. 8. Its pieces can also be purchased at Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus and on Shopbop.com
Price: Check website.
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