by BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
Think hearts and flowers. More precisely, think roses and chocolates. Not only are they good for your relationship with your spouse or significant other, they’re good for the local economy, too.
People the world over will pay homage Thursday to St. Valentine, and the spirit of romance that’s been associated with his name since at least the Middle Ages. You don’t need to be told, but Valentine’s Day, celebrated every Feb. 14, is a day for lovers, and a day for pledging love with a gift.
In America, it’s big business. Nationwide last Valentine’s Day, people bought 58 million pounds of chocolate valued at $345 million. That doesn’t even count other kinds of candies, especially those little pastel hearts printed with love messages. American merchants sold something like eight billion of them in 2012.
And flowers? According to the Website aboutflowers.com, people bought 198 million red roses last Valentine’s Day, in addition to millions more mixed flowers, non-red roses and plants.
Local businesses, of course, share the wealth. Mostly they say the timing of the day is just right. In an economy that tends toward sluggishness in winter, the February holiday gives them a lift.
“No doubt it’s a huge day for us as far as revenue goes. We triple our work force,” said Sandy Fuller, owner of Cherry’s Florists in downtown
Fuller said that for Valentine’s Day, Cherry’s brings on extra people to prep flowers in the back room, and to move sales along up front. And the workers hustle out in the community, delivering Valentine’s Day wares.
“There’s no way to get it all done in the normal fashion. It’s a welcome challenge for us,” Fuller said.
The story’s much the same at Fitzgerald’s Flowers, another florist shop in La Grande. Owner Julie Bodfish said Mother’s Day beats Valentine’s Day for total volume sold, but Valentine’s Day is the clear winner for one-day sales.
“It’s the biggest single day at the flower shop all year,” Bodfish said.
Flowers — especially roses — are the big seller for both businesses, but neither is limited to just that. Both Bodfish and Fuller said plants, chocolates, assorted other candies, cards and balloons go good on the holiday.
Both also said men are their best customers on this one day of the year that pays homage to romance.
“I would say the women get treated more to flowers and gifts than men,”
Said Bodfish, “The biggest thing is the men sending gifts to their sweethearts.”
Up in Wallowa County, Valentine’s Day is especially good for Arrowhead Chocolates, an artisan chocolate shop in Joseph. Erica Houck, who owns the business with her mother and father, Bruce and Wendy Reininger, said it’s a big help in Wallowa County’s distinctively tourism-oriented and seasonal economy.
“It’s a significant event for the slow winter months. It’s hard in the winter around here, but for us, we’re able to employ the year round,” Houck said.
Houck said that at Arrowhead, packaging is considered as important as the product. A local woodworker supplies the business with hand-made boxes in different shapes, including hearts, that make for a standout gift. Houck said the boxes are nice keepsakes, and that many customers hang on to them and come back to have them refilled.
As for customer demographics, Houck, like Fuller and Bodfish, said she expects a throng of men coming through her doors on this particular holiday.
“There’s a lot of men we may not see the rest of the year, but they come in on Valentine’s Day,” she said.
But that’s not to say women never go Valentine’s Day shopping. They do. Houck said a difference between her female customers and her male ones is that the ladies usually know exactly what they want when they come in.
“They want a custom order. The men aren’t sure what they want, but they know they want something good. We try and make it a simple process for them so they get the gift they love,” Houck said.
Back in La Grande, another business getting a boost from Valentine’s Day is the Potter’s House, owned by Bob and Judy Jensen. Judy Jensen said that while the holiday isn’t make-or-break for the business, it’s a much-needed shot in the arm in winter.
“It’s not that big for me, but it sure helps February,” she said.
Bob Jensen is a nationally-known potter and art activist. In their boutique, the Jensens sell a variety of gift items including pottery Bob produces in his shop. Judy Jensen said the Raku roses her husband makes are a popular seller in the Valentine’s Day season.
Candy does well too, but not just any candy. Judy said she does especially well with Moonstruck chocolates, which became famous a few years ago when the Moonstruck company of Portland supplied truffles for the Emmy awards.
Oprah Winfrey tried the confection, loved it and the rest is history. Now at Valentine’s Day, businesses wanting to carry Moonstruck merchandise better place their orders early.
“It takes seven days before it gets on the truck,” Judy Jensen said.