Imagine fresh coffee, or tea and honey, and granola sweetened with maple syrup. Imagine them coming to you as a gentle surprise, like breakfast in bed. You can drink from a mug made by a local artist, a cup as smooth as cream or fluted like a chantarelle.
You can give zest and restoration.
“It’s like Harry & David meets the Berkshires,” said Oskar Hallig, co-founder of Only in My Dreams.
He and his husband, Mike Zippel, have made a name for five years as Berkshire event planners, and in the pandemic they have evolved into locally sourced care packages and gift boxes.
In this unusual holiday season, they want to make it easier for people to shop locally and share the holidays with a sense of humor.
In September they opened a shop in South Egremont, and they run a webshop through their website. On Mondays and Tuesdays (in the pandemic) they have offered shopping by appointment, so each guest can have the shop to themselves, and they deliver in the county.
They make their own holiday crackers — not the kind that go well with cheese — the bright paper party favors that open with a bang to spill out jokes and silly hats, Berkshire mottoes and chocolates. They carry wooden advent calendars, ornaments and handmade holiday stockings.
Local artisans have also come in and asked to share their wares, he said, photography and leatherwork, pine sachets, fiber art, woodwork and wreathes.
And along one wall, he has set up gift boxes with themes — some for the holidays, some for studying in finals week, resting on sunny mornings, thanks and surprises.
They may hold Chocolate Springs hot chocolate, or Smokey Divas barbecue sauce, which Hallig points out, smiling.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Drinkable. Batheable.” It’s that good.
People can also design their own boxes from the many elements they have on offer, he said. In Covid he and Zippel have turned to the Berkshires to support local businesses, here where they have connections and can get people what they want immediately. A ceramics artist who makes many of their mugs may pick up local honey for them when he brings in his next supply.
They buy directly from the makers, Hallig said, to make sure their local sources benefit as much as possible.
They began creating boxes as a natural part of their event planning, he said — weddings and birthdays, Pride, holidays. They would put together welcome boxes for wedding guests, Hallig said, recalling one with a split of champagne and a flute glass.
They evolved the businesses soon after their own wedding in January 2014, Hallig said. They planned their own event at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, and everyone said “Why aren’t you doing this professionally?”
They draw on a network of connections that stretch back generations.
Hallig was born in Germany and grew up here in Mount Washington. His father used to telecommute in the 1970s, he said, before working remotely really existed — he had a massive Telex to bring messages from New York or Europe to their mountaintop.
Oskar left home and traveled the world. He and Zippel met in Germany, Zippel’s home country. And in time they came back to the Berkshires, at first to run Hilltop House, a B&B in Hallig’s old home town.
Hallig says in some ways, Only In My Dreams has been part of his own from the beginning.
“I went to the Rudolph Steiner School in Great Barrington,” he said, “and I would play school, or I would play store. I taught at Berkshire Community College for 11 years as an adjunct — and now this is the store.”
The business has grown by word of mouth, he said, and now they are shipping to Florida, New York, California. Locals are sending gifts, and friends and families who cannot come here until travel opens up again are sending themselves a taste of the Berkshires.
He and Zippel also feel tuned in to the Berkshires in new ways. Before the pandemic, he said, they often spent weekends in the city with friends. Spending more time here and growing the business has brought a new sense of connection. It’s trend he sees broadly, and he does not see it changing when the pandemic ends.
Now he and Zippel are working with local nonprofits.
He has created new themed boxes for places working in the community, and each one includes a donation to the organization.
The idea grew from working with Berkshire Theatre Group on their annual benefit in the fall, Hallig said. He created a themed box for them.
Gwendolyn VanSant, founding director of Multicultural Bridge, saw the boxes as she was planning Bridge’s virtual conference in November. She asked Hallig and Zippel to create a Bridge box, and she has helped to curate it.
Now, along with Bridge and BTG, Only in My Dreams also offers themed boxes for Berkshire South Community Center and BerkShares, and one for the Berkshire Immigrant Center with gifts all made by businesses owned by local immigrants — Asia Luna Soap, Klara’s Cookies, Six Depot Coffee, a Fire Cider Shot and a bright Omega African bracelet.
Hallig and Zippel started to offer these boxes at the end of November, and they have raised some $500 in since then to benefit these organizations. It is often easier to sell five or 10 boxes than to find a substantial donor, Hallig said. He is exploring the idea with others. Only in my Dreams often works with arts and community organzations from the Mount to the Norman Rockwell Museum and Railroad Street Youth Project. He and Zippel have been talking with Liana Toscanini at the Berkshire Nonprofit Center about places who might be interested.
They are also working with IS183 Art School, where Zippel is on the board, and so local ceramics artists including Ben Evans, Veronica Martin and Daniel Bellow are shaping mugs on a kick wheel, irridescent and porcelaine, marbled and honeycombed, to hold a hot cup of coffee.