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SHOPTALK : Easter Gifts Abound : Opportunities for bargains are everywhere. Shoppers should plan ahead to save some time.


Last week we compared prices on Passover items at local grocery stores. This week, in our continuing effort to be nondenominational, we will concentrate on Easter.

Unlike Passover--which offered few shopping options--Easter items are everywhere. There are so many choices, in fact, that we recommend planning ahead before you shop. Map out a route and arrange it so you can hit two or three stores in one stop. You will probably be able to get everything you need without additional time and parking hassles.

We went Easter shopping last week at party supply stores, discount stores and grocery stores, most of which had shelves stocked high with pastel merchandise.

Our first stop was the Dollar and More Store in Fillmore which, due to earthquake damage, is now operating out of a temporary structure in Central Park. What was most noteworthy at this store was that no tax is being charged on any items.

Though the Easter supplies there were limited, we did find an attractive basket made by Willowbrook Farms of Commerce, Calif., filled with chocolate, taffy, jelly beans and other candy. Price: $6.59.

Is that a good deal? Well, we found comparable baskets at Vons in the Rose Avenue shopping center in Oxnard and at the Oxnard Target store on Vineyard Avenue.

At Vons they were going for $6.99 (plus tax) and at Target they were $5.99 (plus tax).

Of course, baskets and their contents vary, and they need to reflect the taste of the recipient, no matter what the price. And remember, there's always another option. If you don't want to buy a filled basket, buy an empty one and fill it yourself. Empty baskets, like the loaded ones, vary greatly--in size, shape and design. The largest volume and variety we came across was at Bonnie's party supply store on Main Street in Ventura. Prices began at $1.29 for baskets large enough to hold a decent quantity of goodies. We found them as low as $2.98 at Vons, $1.48 at the Parties Galore store at the Rose shopping center, $1.99 at Target, and $1.49 at the Pic 'N' Save in Ventura.

It would probably be cheapest to fill these baskets with homemade craft items, but if you don't have the time or the talent, there are dozens of trinkets out there.

Among the many little gifts in stock at Parties Galore, we found cute panoramic eggs (those eggs with a scene inside) for $1.98 (small) and $7.98 (jumbo). Elsewhere, we found a 22-inch inflatable Barbara Bunny for 99 cents at Pic 'N' Save and miniature figurines for 97 cents each at Bonnie's, which offers shelves of basket fillers.

We also visited Fillmore Flower Shop, just down the street from the Dollar and More Store, where we discovered fancier items mixed in with the toys. A ceramic Easter egg salt and pepper shaker in a ceramic basket was $14.95, miniature bunny figurines were $3 and $4, a bunny head candleholder was $4.15, and place mats with egg prints were $7. The matching napkins were $3.25 a piece.

Finally, if chocolate is welcome in your home, you will undoubtedly want to toss some into the basket. The best prices we found were at Pic 'N' Save. A 2.3-ounce hollow egg was going for 99 cents. That was the good news. The bad news? Most of the eggs were cracked. The store also had solid 3.5-ounce ducks and rabbits for 99 cents. But again, some of the animals had been roughed up a bit.

For chocolate with virtually no damage: We found 3 1/2-ounce hollow chocolate eggs for just under $2, and 1 3/4-ounce hollow bunnies for just under $1, at both Target and Vons. Both stores, of course, had huge candy selections. Target was even selling a 1 1/2-ounce solid chocolate bunny with "no sugar added" for those on sugar-restricted diets. Price: $1.49.

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