In a recession, there’s the temptation for Cupid to get cheap. But the J.C. Penney Co. last Friday moved to make lovers think twice about slinking out of their Valentine’s Day rites. The department store chain declared the week leading up to the holiday “Doghouse Prevention Week,” which is part of a marketing campaign that warns primarily men against buying bad gifts for loved ones.
Another indication that the economic downturn is crimping love’s budget is apparent at Krause’s Homemade Candy. The Colonie chocolatier has ordered 150, 15-pound flats of strawberries that will be dipped in chocolate for the holiday, 25 percent less than a year ago.
“We have been bracing ourselves for the fact that we would have less business,” said Krause’s store manager Mike Martoccio.
Although decent weather is expected for Valentine’s Day, the holiday’s overall forecast remains gloomy. Earlier this month, the National Retail Federation said the economy is “one thing that love may not conquer this year.”
However, countering those dire predictions are people such as Randy Loren, a veteran local singer who will open an Italian restaurant in Schenectady on Valentine’s Day. The crooner — a regular performer at Brandon’s Steak and Seafood — plans to sing for the customers of his Randy Loren’s Dolce Vita Ristorante on State Street.
Pat Payne, the owner of Lohse Florist in Gloversville, is another self-proclaimed optimist who is banking on a good holiday.
She said the recession did not prompt her to trim the store’s stock of flowers. Because the holiday falls on a weekend, the florist’s heavy period of deliveries to women at their offices starts today.
“This is a feel-good holiday, and we need this pickup,” Payne said.
Two months after retailers experienced their worst holiday season in almost four decades, they are still looking for a pickup. Outside the candy and card industries, few retailers are expected to find it during Valentine’s week. In January alone, U.S. employers shed 598,000 workers — the highest number of job losses the nation has experienced in a single month since 1974.
Low-cost items this Valentine’s are expected to have greater sway over lovers on the prowl for gifts. IBISWorld Research, a Los Angeles market research firm, earlier this month projected holiday card sales to rise over the year by 1.1 percent and candy sales to increase 0.9 percent. But holiday apparel, dining out and jewelry are forecast to take the biggest hits, declining 6.7 percent, 6.1 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively.
The National Retail Federation said American adults are expected to spend an average of $102.50 on Valentine’s gifts and merchandise, compared with $122.98 a year earlier. That trend is already playing out at Krause’s in Colonie, where shoppers have cleaned the chocolate maker out of half-pound, heart-shaped chocolate boxes, leaving behind costlier one-pound boxes.
“The sales are going to be there, but [consumers] will be looking for things that are less expensive,” said Nancy Thompson, the floral manager for Central Market Florist in Glenville’s Price Chopper on Route 50.
Catering to cost-conscious lovers, a growing number of area restaurants are offering fixed-price, three-course dinners. Loren’s Dolce Vita, which is located in the former Shanghai Bistro, is offering Valentine’s three-course meals for $59.95 per couple. Couples will receive a complimentary small bottle of champagne and a rose.
“I think it will be a great holiday. When [Valentine’s] falls on a Saturday, that really draws crowds,” said Bob Lee, whose The Wishing Well restaurant in Wilton is offering three-course dinners for $25 per person.
To attract wealthy consumers in the recession, the Mazzone Management Group and Northeastern Fine Jewelry have joined forces to establish Valentine’s packages that pair three-course meals with jewelry gifts.
Under the Schenectady duo’s $450 “Dinner and Diamonds” package, couples get dinner at 677 Prime in Albany or Prime at Saratoga National in Saratoga Springs plus a selection of diamond stud earrings.
Their $150 “Pandora and Prime” package includes dinner at those restaurants plus a choice of gold or silver starter bracelet and starter charm.
“Given the economy, we wanted to offer the customer something they could use to kill two birds with one stone,” said Northeastern marketing director Valerie Bleser.