Despite economy, Valentine's Day business sweet for merchants

Eddi Marie Julian, owner of Beckles Candles and Gifts in Modesto, said only a few of her customer's have cutt back for Valentine's.
Eddi Marie Julian, owner of Beckles Candles and Gifts in Modesto, said only a few of her customer's have cutt back for Valentine's. Modesto Bee

For Valentine's Day, if love is in the air, then money is coming out of wallets.

Despite the economic downturn in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, retailers who do big business on Valentine's Day say they aren't seeing a drop-off in sales for the day marking all things romantic.

"The economy is affecting us on other days, and you can see that," said David Alonso, owner of Papapavlo's Mediterranean Bistro & Wine Bar in Modesto. "But not for Valentine's Day."

Alonso and other business owners said consumers don't think of flowers, candy and other Valentine's Day expenditures as discretionary. If they've got a sweetie to spoil, shoppers will spend money.

The National Retail Federation expects the average consumer to spend $122.98 for Valentine's Day this year, up from $119.67 last year. That's based on a survey of 8,447 consumers in early January, with a margin of error of 1 percent.

Eddi Marie Julian, owner of Beckles Candies & Gifts in Modesto, said many of her customers have ordered their typical Valentine's gifts.

A handful of customers have scaled back, she said, ordering something that's smaller or of lesser quality.

"For most people, we're not considered a discretionary item," Julian said.

But she noted that while her costs have gone up 2 percent to 10 percent in the past year, her prices largely have stayed the same.

"Nothing is priced more just for Valentine's Day," she said. "We're very aware of people's situations."

In the National Retail Federation's survey, consumers expected to spend less on tradi- tional Valentine's Day items, and more on "gifts of experience," such as a night on the town, and gift cards.

Still, Carlin Johnson, an assistant manager at Cheesecake Kitchen in Modesto, said orders have been steady.

Johnson, whose family owns the business, said Valentine's Day is the store's third-busiest holiday, after Christmas and Easter.

"The week before, we start getting orders," she said.

Her store has kept a lid on prices after raising them last year when costs went up, Johnson said.

"The dairy prices go up, and that affects our cheese prices," she said. "But people are making the same orders."

Consumers are also loyal to the standby of a rose bouquet, said Colleen Scudder, who helps with arrangements at Ceres Floral in Ceres.

But by buying earlier this year, Scudder said, those consumers locked in a price of $65 for a bouquet, which since has gone up to $80.

"They're still after that rose," she said. "With Valentine's, it's once a year, and I think a lot of customers plan for it."

Scudder said her store helps customers on a budget by suggesting a mixed arrangement that starts at $25.

But a jewelry store owner said romantics are turning cold at the idea of spending a lot for a shiny bauble.

Paul Patterson, owner of Patterson's Jewelry in Modesto, said he sees more business from jewelry repairs than sales lately.

"Ninety percent of all shoppers still want to buy for under $500, and some want to just buy something for $200 and be done with it," Patterson said. "No more big-ticket items."

He said the slow economy has made many people leery of big purchases, although engagement rings are still popular.

Jesse Casas of Modesto is an example of what Patterson is seeing. After spending $200 for a ring last year for his girlfriend, he spent $20 for a gift this year.

"I'm out of a job right now, but I had some money saved from last month," said Casas, 26, who works in construction. "Really, it's the thought that counts."

If the economy is biting wallets in some respects, Valentine's Day will be consistent in an- other respect: which gender spends the most.

According to the National Retail Federation's Survey, on average, men will spend $163.37 this year — nearly twice as much as women.

Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at or 578-2331.