Celebrating love

February 05, 2006|By LORI SEARS | LORI SEARS,SUN REPORTER

Love it or loathe it, Valentine's Day is fast approaching. Step into any card shop or drugstore, and you won't be able to avoid the rows of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, the miles of red and pink cards and the many soft and cuddly stuffed animals smiling back at you.

The day, of course, is mainly for lovers, but it does see its share of popularity among other segments of the population, including friends, children / parents, teachers / students, classmates and even co-workers, according to the National Retail Federation.

While the origin is not clear, it's long been believed that Valentine's Day is celebrated Feb. 14 because of the approximate date in 270 that Roman priest Valentine was executed.

Emperor Claudius II ordered the death of Valentine when it was discovered that the priest was secretly performing marriages for young men. The emperor believed that unmarried men made better soldiers.

Legend also contends that before his death, the imprisoned Valentine, who fell in love with his jailer's daughter, wrote the woman a love letter and signed it "From your Valentine."

And thus, a Valentine was born.

And talk about a sweet idea. The Valentine's card remains the most popular gift that is purchased on the holiday, according to the NRF. The federation also reports that the second-most popular Valentine's Day gift is candy, then, in order, an evening out, flowers, jewelry, a gift card and clothing.

And with consumers expected to spend about $97 each on Valentine's Day (nearly $59 of which is on a significant other), there is a lot of decision-making to do.

"We want to make sure that we have inexpensive, yet fun gifts that are great ways to express love," says Malinda Behrens, vice president of brand development for Party City. "Everybody believes that they have the creative gene or wishes they had the creative gene. Everybody wants to give a gift that's different."

This year, Party City expects to sell 30 million balloons the week of Valentine's Day. "Our flower is a balloon," Behrens says. "We have customers that come in to buy a bouquet of balloons. And we also really believe in stuffed animals. So we've tied those together this year and said 'Give a bear balloon bouquet.' It's the ultimate bouquet."

From heart-shaped candles to decorative glass chocolate drops, the Valentine's Day choices are endless at area shops and online. But often, the new and interesting products are derivative of a tried-and-true item.

"For as much new product that's on the market, people really seem to be most comfortable relying on the classics," says Susan Hook, a spokeswoman for RedEnvelope. "The flowers and the chocolates are really the top performers for us, always. And this season, it looks like it's going to be a similar path."

But that doesn't mean that items such as RedEnvelope's "Love Letters Book," filled with reproduced romantic letters from famous people, aren't popular. They are.

"It's a more interesting way of expressing yourself without having to express yourself," Hook says. "People are looking for gifts that say things for them."

lori.sears@baltsun.com

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