Amid cold and ice, florists hoping that Valentine's Day business warms up

February 13, 1994|By Amy L. Miller and Darren M. Allen | Amy L. Miller and Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writers

A good-natured shriek reverberated through the phone, followed by peals of laughter.

"That's how our Valentine's Day business is going," said Lori Graham of the Stewart N. Dutterer Flower Shop in Westminster, releasing all her pent-up frustrations with the snow and ice.

Flowers trapped at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and delivery trucks sliding in the slush are working to break Cupid's bow before his big day arrives. But Carroll County's florists say they are determined to help him restring it by tomorrow.

"We've got our four-wheel-drive out, so we're trying to get anywhere we can [to deliver]," said Loraine Long, owner of Long's Florist in Hampstead and Finksburg. "It's worked out pretty well so far. We've been able to get into most places.

"We're just keeping our fingers crossed that it will pan out."

Messages ordered from the Flower Shop in Taneytown and Littlestown, Pa., will depend on a fleet with six drivers ready and waiting to deliver tomorrow, said owner Jane Bitner. Only the "most necessary" bouquets were delivered on Friday, she said.

"If this doesn't clear up, I don't know what we'll do," she said, noting that students at Littlestown High School willingly delayed until Tuesday their shipment of carnations for an annual fund-raiser.

The color of each flower imparts a different sentiment, such as red for love, she said.

"If we're not able to deliver on Monday, they'll have to go out on Tuesday," Ms. Bitner said. "If [the students] understand, I hope other people will too."

Dutterer's customers have been most understanding all winter long, said owner Eileen Dutterer Gist.

"We've had drivers walk up driveways and slide back down again," she said. "Some [customers] have been very understanding, saying, 'Call tomorrow and I'll tell you what the conditions are like on my lane.' People have been very kind because they are in the same quandary we are."

Although closed airports have stranded some flowers in Southern airports, most florists are sure that the shipments will arrive in time.

"It's just a delay at this point," Ms. Long said.

Ms. Bitner and Linda Hutchinson, owner of Hutchinson's Flowers in Sykesville, said they are grateful that their flowers made it through the storm.

"In our particular instance, [we don't have a problem] right now," Ms. Hutchinson said. "Some people have a thousand roses stuck in an airport somewhere."

Florists are concerned that despite their best efforts, the icy winds might keep customers from beating a path to their door. Sales for Valentine's Day, the second-biggest holiday in the floral calendar, typically are spread over a four-day period, they said.

"We were looking forward to a good Valentine's Day," Ms. Long said. "Business was starting to come back after the recession. Hopefully, this won't hurt too much."

Ms. Gist said that she has been making bows for bouquets at home and that her other employees have been preparing the shop, anticipating the annual deluge.

"We're hoping everyone shows up for Valentine's Day, or at least calls," she said. "We're hoping to pick ourselves up and it will end up being a decent holiday.

"It's always amazing to see how many romantic people there are around. They all seem to be so busy. But when Valentine's Day comes, they take those extra few minutes to do something special for the one they care about."

The hundreds of state, county and municipal workers cleaning Carroll roads Friday probably were not concerned about affairs of the heart, though.

They have been long on hours behind the wheel but short on sleep and salt as the winter of 1994 continues to pound the area.

"It's not been a good year for us," Jay R. Nave, administrative assistant for the Carroll County Bureau of Roads Operations, said Friday afternoon. "But so far this storm has been easier to deal with. If it does end up as all snow, we'll be able to plow and let nature take its course."

It wasn't all snow, however. Late Friday afternoon, sleet hit much of the county, and by sunset, freezing rain threatened to add yet another icy crust.

Mr. Nave said Carroll County has spent more than $1 million in its effort to clear the county's 900 miles of roads this year. An ordinary winter's worth of snow removal costs no more than $500,000, he said.

"It's not cheap," he said, noting that 97 people operating more than 50 pieces of equipment around the clock costs the county almost $2,000 an hour.

Then there's the salt, sand and other abrasive, traction-enhancing materials Mr. Nave and his crew have been spreading almost nonstop since winter began.

"We've already used 15,000 tons of salt this year," he said. In a typical winter, the total amount of salt used by county roads crews usually comes to less than 12,000 tons.

"You've got to remember that we've been dumping storm after storm after storm, and we haven't been able to stockpile," he said.

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