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Valentine’s Day looking sweet for Charlotte retailers

Charlotte retailers are anticipating a sweet Valentine’s Day – maybe their best ever – with the holiday falling on a Saturday, the economy rebounding, and lower gas prices making consumers feel richer and happier.

And unlike last year, Charlotte isn’t contending with a Valentine’s week snowstorm.

The National Retail Federation says the average American will spend $142.31 on Valentine’s gifts, dinners and outings, an increase of about $10 from last year. Total spending for the holiday, the NRF said, will be a record-high $18.9 billion.

At The Secret Chocolatier, Valentine’s Day accounts for about 30 percent of annual sales, according to Andy Ciordia, a co-owner of the Charlotte candy maker with stores at Providence Plaza and Ballantyne Commons.

The holiday is “just insanity” – winter production essentially persists at the same intensity from early December until after Valentine’s Day, Ciordia said – and business has only gotten busier with an improved economy.

“They say consumer confidence is up and we feel that,” Ciordia said. “We’re just seeing people spend a little bit more already this year and we’re not even in the full crunch of the holiday.”

The national figures bode well for Ciordia and his team: More than half of Americans will buy candy for Valentine’s Day, according to the NRF’s survey, spending a total of $1.7 billion.

Mark Vitner, managing director and senior economist at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, expects a convergence of factors to make Valentine’s Day “very big” for area retailers.

“It follows a year when many people had their plans canceled because of the bad weather they had a year ago,” Vitner said. “You throw in the stronger economy and lower gas prices, people have a little bit more money in their pocket and they might be a little more willing to spend.”

Over 21 percent of shoppers plan to buy jewelry and will spend a total of $4.8 billion, the highest amount in the NRF’s yearly Valentine’s Day survey.

At Fink’s Jewelers in SouthPark Mall, Valentine’s shoppers will spend $500 to $800 on average, said Traci Baker, the store manager. Among the most popular items this year, Baker said, are Mikimoto pearls. Studs run between $300 and $500 a pair and strands are about $1,800.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve seen a steady (Valentine’s Day sales) increase every year. For the first couple of years after 2008, it was still kind of up and down. But I would say since 2012 we’ve seen trending in a constant positive,” Baker said.

Donald Haack Jewelers & Fine Gems in Morrocroft Village experiences a similar yearly Valentine’s Day sales bump, said Julie Haack, the company’s president. A rise in engagement rings around this time of year boosts those sales. According to the store’s website, the price of diamond rings runs from about $1,800 to over $77,000.

More than one-third of Americans plan to spend on movies and restaurants on Valentine’s Day for a total of $3.6 billion, according to the survey. The holiday falling on a Saturday means restaurants will be even busier than usual.

At Del Frisco’s Steakhouse in SouthPark, general manager Rick Cheesman said the entire weekend is almost booked. This Friday, he said, will be even busier than Valentine’s Day itself last year.

“We’re going to be setting records this year and I think that’s a function of the way it fell this year and the fact that we’ve been here for eight years and have a great relationship with Charlotte,” Cheesman said.

But the weekend timing of the holiday this year isn’t as beneficial for florists. According to Ted Todd, who owns the three Blossom Shop stores in Charlotte, when Valentine’s Day falls on the weekend, industry sales are usually 17 to 20 percent lower than they’d be on a weekday.

“It’s more exciting to receive flowers at the office and it’s more exciting to send them to somebody at the office. We’re seeing Valentine’s Day really happening on Friday the 13th ,” Todd said, adding that Friday already accounts for half of his stores’ holiday deliveries this year.

Valentine’s flower sales tend to stay robust regardless of the economy, but this year looks especially strong, he said.

A rebounding labor market is encouraging household spending. And the decline in gas prices – which economists say will have saved Americans $750 over the past year – provides additional relief for consumers after years of cautious spending.

“There were plenty of times over the past few years when simply making a dinner or a making homemade gift was top of mind for consumers because of the economy,” said Kathy Grannis, the NRF’s senior director of media relations. “So we might be getting back to that point where splurging on gifts for loved ones is doable.”

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