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Business owners hustle to keep romance, profits alive for Valentine's Day

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 13, 2010; A16

The snow is deep, the sidewalks slushy and spring nothing but a tease. Yet there is one force that might be able to overcome the wrath of Mother Nature: love.

Washington area business owners say they hope the power of love will dig them out of snow-blown sales to salvage what is expected to be a $14 billion Valentine's Day. A wholesale flower supplier in Silver Spring called in employees at 4 a.m. this week to make up for lost time. A Chevy Chase spa is offering promotions to lure weary shovelers. And a downtown Washington lingerie shop is staying open an extra day to give procrastinating Cupids time to find the perfect gift.

"It's very hard to tell your significant other, 'Sorry, because there's snow, there's no Valentine's Day,' " said Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, a trade group. "If that was the case, we'd be more worried about the divorce rate than retail sales."

Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday, is particularly important this year because President's Day is Monday, making for a three-day weekend that business owners say they hope will help them recoup sales lost to Snowmageddon.

Tsur Reiss, owner of Potomac Floral Wholesale, said Valentine's Day is an important sales driver, but it is also tricky to navigate. For other events, such as Mother's Day, Reiss can sell leftover flowers for proms, weddings and other events. But if his Valentine's Day flowers don't sell, there isn't much he can do with them.

His company was supposed to get several shipments of flowers from Costa Rica, France and Italy this past Sunday, but they were derailed by snow. When the flowers finally arrived, employees began distributing them to florists as early as 4 a.m.

Equipped for battle

On Thursday, Reiss armed each of his 19 truck drivers with a shovel as they crisscrossed the region. He personally delivered orders from the warehouse in Silver Spring to stores in McLean and Alexandria. He shrugged off his recent lack of sleep as part of the job, "as long as we know the lovely women in Washington, D.C., will get their red roses."

Leslie Goldman-Poyourow said the snow has thrown her Bethesda bakery's schedule out of kilter, with some customers canceling orders and others forced to make last-minute pleas. Her Fancy Cakes by Leslie plans to whip up plenty of cupcakes -- especially ones infused with liquor -- for procrastinating shoppers. But her heart broke when one of her customers postponed an engagement party because family members would have a tough time getting in. The customer had planned to propose to his girlfriend and then surprise her with the celebration afterward.

"It's sad," Goldman-Poyourow said. "But I think on actual Valentine's Day, things will just go on."

Coup de Foudre owner Valerie Lucas said she expects the snow will delay some sales at her downtown Washington lingerie shop until next week. The storm probably affected her female clients, who typically come in about a week before Valentine's Day, she said. But as men tend to be last-minute shoppers, she had decided even before the first flake fell to keep the store open Sunday, when she is normally closed.

Other companies found inspiration in the blizzard: Hela Spa in Chevy Chase sent an e-mail to clients Wednesday advertising "snow specials," including a free calming lavender body scrub with a facial.

"When you're not working, you can come up with a lot of ideas," said JoElle Lyons, aesthetician at the spa. "I think everyone was brainstorming because they had cabin fever."

Forget the milk; buy a car

Megan Lucey and her fiance were so determined to make their Friday night reservation at chi-chi Westend Bistro at the Ritz-Carlton -- at a special table with a view of the kitchen, no less -- that they bought a new car to take on the snow.

Lucey said she went stir-crazy at her Bethesda home last weekend during the first round of the storm. She never changed out of her sweats, gave up on makeup and kept her hair pulled into a wet ponytail. So when forecasts of a second blizzard surfaced, Lucey and her fiance hightailed it to a car dealership and traded in her 1999 Oldsmobile Bravada for a Jeep Liberty on Tuesday.

"I've had enough defrosted chicken breast to last me a year," she said.

The couple got engaged last Valentine's Day, so skipping a celebration was not an option. They tested the four-wheel drive in Wednesday's blizzard and are confident it will ferry them safely to dinner. At the restaurant, Lucey plans to trade her snow boots for red patent leather heels.

Those still looking for love have also displayed great fortitude in the face of the snow. The storm could not stop Brendan Hanrahan from going ahead with plans for the inaugural Cupid's Undies Run around the Capitol on Saturday to raise money for the Children's Tumor Foundation. The event is exactly what it sounds like: More than 300 (mostly) singles running/fast-walking in their skivvies. In freezing temperatures. In the snow. Sixty people registered this week alone.

"You've got to be crazy enough to sign up for this run to begin with," Hanrahan said. "It only takes one step more crazy to continue to do the run after the blizzard."

A potential problem: Hanrahan is worried that the red briefs with white trim that he special-ordered from Miami won't arrive in time because of mail delays.

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