In Raleigh, semi-precious finds all over

Somewhere in Raleigh right now there is a small black-and-white striped box tied up with a red ribbon. Inside, there are earrings or a necklace, possibly pearls. It could be on a park bench, or in restaurant.

Find it and it's yours.

No strings. No hidden cameras. Just a feel-good moment during these less-than-feel-good economic times, courtesy of Trey Bailey.

Bailey, director of operations for Bailey's Fine Jewelry, a Raleigh institution, decided last month to try a little viral advertising campaign. Since then he and his staff have left 20 gifts around the city. The first was found by Cecilia Upchurch of Raleigh, whose curiosity was piqued when she saw the little box on a patio table at Cafe Carolina & Bakery in Cameron Village.

“It was Sept. 11, and people were hesitant to touch it,” Upchurch said. “It was nicely wrapped and as pretty as could be. I picked it up and underneath the box the note said, ‘Finder's keeper.'”

She took the box inside the restaurant and opened it in front of the manager. Inside was a pearl stretch bracelet.

It was just luck that Upchurch was even there that day. Both her parents are ill and live in separate nursing facilities. She usually eats lunch in her car on the way to visit them. On that day, her mother was feeling good and told Upchurch to treat herself to lunch instead of driving to the facility.

Upchurch wore the bracelet to dinner that night. She told all her friends about it. She wore it to church and told everyone there. She even told the story on her family's Web site.

Bailey's viral marketing had taken off.

Companies pay thousands of dollars for such publicity. For Bailey's, the cost isn't as high as one might think. Most of the gifts range from $20 to $100. “It's not cheap, but it's not terribly expensive,” Bailey said. Indeed, he just started similar campaigns in Rocky Mount and Greenville, N.C., where he also has stores.

Bailey said he also likes to hear the stories behind the people who find them. “It's a great, intimate way to get to know your customers and your community,” he said.

For now, he plans to continue the campaign indefinitely.

He did consider that someone might think the box was dangerous.

“I thought about it. But then I said, ‘Why should I be so cynical?' I shouldn't let that keep me from doing something that's good.”