Anthony Bryndza left the gift-wrapping department at the Macy's at Union Square in San Francisco with a package wrapped in a heavy silver paper, trimmed with bright green ribbon and a decorative bell.
"If I tried to do it myself, it would look like I did it myself. It's a beautiful job," said the 68-year-old San Francisco resident.
Bryndza paid $11 for the holiday present to be wrapped, which will be given to a needy recipient through a community gift-giving program. "It's just to make it as nice as possible for the guy who is getting it," he said.
There are some shoppers like Bryndza, who believe a professional wrapping is just as important as the present itself. But that's not the case for most consumers at a time of changing tastes and the growing popularity of gift cards and gift bags.
In March, Macy's shut down its gift-wrapping service at most stores nationwide, except for its Union Square store and four other locations. JCPenney shut down its gift-wrapping service several years ago.
"Three years ago, we began to shift away from gift-wrap departments based on reduced customer demand for gift-wrapping services. In part, this may be part of a societal environmental sensitivity for using less paper. In part, customers are preferring less formal wrapping options (i.e., gift bags)," Macy's spokeswoman Laura Smith said in an e-mail. She added that Macy's will continue to provide gift-wrapping at stores where demand continues for the service.
Upon request, many department stores -- including Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Nordstrom, JCPenney and Sears, along with specialty retailers such as Victoria's Secret -- provide customers with a free gift box for merchandise purchased inside a store. But that's not quite the same as a present all wrapped up with pretty paper, ribbons and bows.
Some enterprising people like Julie Allen, a San Leandro resident, do gift-wrapping for people who don't like to wrap presents or don't have the time.
"A lot of them are men who don't want to wrap presents, or families that are super-busy and just don't have the time," said Allen, 37, whose day job is working at an insurance company.
To date this year, she has five customers -- three men and two families. "Both of the parents are working and don't have time," she said.
Last year, she had about 25 customers.
"It works out well for me. It brings in a little bit of cash for the holidays. I like to wrap presents," said Allen, who put a posting on Craigslist to advertise her gift-wrapping service, which charges $5 for small presents and $7 for medium presents (paper and ribbon included). Prices for larger presents vary by size.
Cheryl Keyes, a 69-year-old Martinez resident, likes the idea of a professionally wrapped gift, but not to the point of paying for the service when buying a lot of holiday presents.
"I'd rather they did it, but I don't want to pay for it. It's cheaper (to wrap presents yourself) but it's not easier," said Keyes, who would consider paying for a store to gift wrap a single present, such as a bridal gift.
In today's retail marketplace, most consumers don't place a priority on brick-and-mortar stores having a gift-wrapping service, said James Dion, founder and president of Chicago-based Dionco Inc., a retail consulting firm.
"They don't care about it for a lot of reasons. One is the time issue. In most cases, you had to leave your parcels and come back and get them when they were wrapped, or you would have to wait in a relatively long line to get your parcels wrapped. That is simply not the way most customers shop today," he said.
"It's one of those things, quite frankly, that is almost a 'who cares,' except for a very small subsection of people who are buying higher-end gifts, and they tend to buy those in specialty stores," said Dion. "If you want your ring wrapped at a Cartier or a Tiffany's, I'm certain they could accommodate you."
Indeed, it is hard to imagine receiving a Tiffany's ring that was not inside that iconic blue box.
Another reason that demand for gift-wrapping is being displaced is gift bags, which provide an easy way to present a gift without having to get out the wrapping paper, tape and scissors. First introduced in 1987, gift bags have been the most popular way for consumers to present a gift since 2002, according to Hallmark, which makes both gift bags and wrapping paper.
This holiday season, gift cards will once again be the most requested present, according to the National Retail Federation.
"I would not be surprised if there has been a steady decline in the amount of Christmas wrap sold over the last 15 years," Dion said.
But even gift bags may face a challenge one day.
"An awful lot of people are using the Sunday comics and brown paper bags for wrapping, particularly the Millennials (people born between 1981 and 2000). It's the green thing to do," Dion said.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-952-2690.
You may have a hard time finding a gift-wrapping service at most brick-and-mortar stores, but the service is still available: