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Storm chills Valentine’s Day for Charlotte retailers

valentines-weather
Diedra Laird - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
Mitchell Kearney serves himself free hot chocolate at Paper Skyscraper, 330 East Blvd., on Wednesday. To lure shoppers in, co-owner, Ron Wootten, left, offered free hot chocolate. As a major winter storm descended on the Charlotte region Wednesday, retailers were hoping Valentine’s Day wouldn’t turn out to be a heartbreaker.

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Normally, the days leading up to Valentine’s Day would find the florists at Elizabeth House Flowers on South Boulevard racing to get bouquets of roses, tulips and carnations delivered.

But on Wednesday, trucks that were supposed to deliver flowers were sliding on Charlotte’s slick streets, said co-owner Cecil Shearin. Rather than risk causing an accident, the trucks returned to the shop with the undelivered flowers. That means arrangements might not be delivered until Friday.

Shearin figures Valentine’s sales will be down by as much as 50 percent because of the weather. That would cost the business about $20,000.

For purveyors of flowers, chocolates and cards, the second week of February is a particularly bad time for a snowstorm to shut down the city. Valentine’s Day is the first “shot in the arm” for retailers after the Christmas shopping season and a typically sluggish January, said Andy Ellen, president of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association.

At Shearin’s shop, Valentine’s Day is “our biggest and best day of the year,” ahead of Mother’s Day, he said.

Already, the National Retail Federation was expecting spending to rise only slightly this Valentine’s Day, by an average of about 2 percent per person. Consumers are forecast to spend just under $134 each – an estimate that doesn’t factor in a snowstorm.

At Davidson Chocolate Co., owner Ana Vazquez was personally calling customers with some bad news: The chocolate-covered strawberries that were supposed to be finished Thursday would not be ready until Friday. Vazquez said she couldn’t go out and buy the strawberries because of the weather.

Is she worried that disappointed customers won’t come back next year?

“You never know,” she said. “We have regular customers who I’m pretty sure will understand the situation. I’m guessing there are some new ones that won’t like the idea at all.”

Vazquez planned to open late on Thursday, because of the weather, a move that might cost her additional revenue.

Shearin, of Elizabeth House, said he received angry calls from customers disappointed that their flowers could not be delivered as expected Wednesday.

“Some of them are rude,” he said. “They should understand, and most people do.”

The drop in Valentine’s Day sales could result in layoffs at his shop later in the year, though it’s not a given, Shearin said. Since the financial crisis, his flower shop has lost business because the banking industry is holding fewer big events, he said.

To make matters worse, Elizabeth House was supposed to supply flowers for a party that was to be held Wednesday night at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Shearin said the party was canceled on account of the weather.

“It’s going to cost us money,” he said. “We’re going to have to eat the flowers.”

Splurge restaurants also were taking a hit. The McNinch House on Church Street did not open Wednesday and had to cancel all reservations for the evening, owner Ellen Davis said. She hopes most people will reschedule.

She said the restaurant tends to get Valentine’s-related business throughout the week, not just on the holiday itself.

Some businesses tried to lure walk-in shoppers with freebies. East Boulevard gift shop Paper Skyscraper took to social media to advertise free hot chocolate. Customers were sipping it Wednesday as kids held snowball fights in the parking lot.

Co-owner Ron Wootten said he expects Valentine’s sales to be down as much as 25 percent this year.

“It doesn’t look like tomorrow will be any better,” he said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, what’s a procrastinator to do? For shoppers hoping to buy their Valentine’s gifts before Friday, supermarkets were touting Valentine’s specials. Matthews-based Harris Teeter, for instance, advertised 15-stem rose bouquets for $19.99 for its VIC card customers.

Wootten, at Paper Skyscraper, hopes a surge of latecomers will boost his business.

“The only thing I can hope is that Friday … everybody can come out at the last minute,” he said. Staff writer Ely Portillo contributed.

Roberts: 704-358-5248; Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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