Jack Knox: Valentine’s business buried under blanket of snow

Jack Knox mugshot genericSo, last Valentine’s Day she looked at you coyly and said: “Do you have a surprise for me?”

“Yeah,” you replied. “I accidentally slept with your sister again.”

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This did not go over as well as you hoped, so now the pressure is on — snow or no snow — to do better this year.

To which the people on the other sides of the sales counter reply: You want pressure? Try being us. For those businesses that gear up for Valentine’s as though it’s Chocolate Christmas, Snowmageddon couldn’t have come at a worse time.

On what should have been a day so busy that they needed extra staff, Hallmark Cards & Gifts in the Hillside Centre was slow Tuesday. Ditto for Carlton Cards in the Westshore Town Centre, though they figured the real surge wouldn’t happen until Thursday anyway because, you know, guys.

It was also slow at Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut in downtown Victoria, though manager Brad Potentier said that typically 80 per cent of Valentine’s Day buyers make their purchases on Feb. 13 or 14, anyway. He also figured snowbound Victorians are anxious to venture out again. “People have about a three-day window before they start to get cabin fever.” The weather would have to co-operate, though.

The same applied to Victoria’s high-end restaurants. Most were booked long ago, but, with a 24-hour cancellation window, some wondered if they might see tables come free today if the weather forecast turns bad.

The uncertainty might affect no one as much as those who grow, import or retail the roses bought each year by Romeos hoping that a grand gesture on one special day will make Juliet forget, or at least forgive, the disappointment of the other 364. Imagine trying to get such a perishable product into the right hands in these past few flake-filled days.

“It’s not ideal,” says Eurosa Farms’ Debbie Bulk.

No, things aren’t as bad as the Blizzard of ‘96 when the Brentwood Bay operation lost all but one of its greenhouses. (In fact, Eurosa’s greenhouses might be the most pleasant work environment on Vancouver Island right now. “It’s like being in Hawaii every day,” Bulk says.)

But yes, the snow has created delivery problems. Roses made it through to the Vancouver flower auction — whew! — but now it’s a question of whether today’s weather will improve enough to let Eurosa deliver to Victoria florists. All Bulk can do is be philosophical: “If I’ve got roses left over I’ll hike over to the Alzheimer’s place down the road and make some people happy.”

At least Eurosa’s flowers only have to travel locally. Most of the millions of dozens of roses sold in Canada each year come from abroad, from the likes of Colombia and Ecuador. The wholesalers who handle them must feel like the middle links in a snowshoe relay, waiting for the thorny batons to arrive before trying to get them to the flower-sellers in time.

The latter are anxious. Natasha Crawford, owner of the three Greater Victoria Brown’s The Florist stores, acknowledges the snow has ramped up the stress of an already nail-biting time of year.

“You have to have nerves of steel as you go into these big holidays,” she said. She ordered the stores’ Valentine’s roses eight months ago, some from local growers like Eurosa but some from away. As of Tuesday, Brown’s had enough on hand for anyone who had ordered in advance, but another 5,000 stems were still on a truck that got stuck in the snow at Sequim, Washington.

The list of things that could go wrong weighed on Crawford more heavily than the snow on your roof: What if the roses don’t arrive? What if they arrive but the usual walk-in customers don’t show up? What if the snow stops the florist from delivering orders for which people have already paid? Crawford has been at Brown’s since 2003, but the snow has left her with problems she hasn’t seen before.

Still, challenges and all, she loves Valentine’s Day. It feels good to provide flowers to people who want them, not because they’re in trouble, but because they’re in love. “It’s fun playing Cupid.”

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