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Love, and a little Valentine's Day spending, conquer all

WILLMAR -- Customers at Angels and Ivy in downtown New London might buy a smaller bouquet, or settle for a single rose instead of a dozen.

But even in hard times, people still spend on romantic tokens for Valentine's Day.

"They may be changing their options a little bit. You do have people that want to go with the more economical choice. But they aren't getting rid of it entirely," said Deb Ringler, the store's owner.

Love, it seems, can conquer all.

"It's about the only thing we have!" Ringler laughed.

Americans are projected to spend $14.1 billion this year on flowers, chocolate, jewelry, greeting cards and other gifts for Valentine's Day this weekend. According to the National Retail Federation, the amount is down compared to the last couple of years; cupid's helpers spent $14.7 billion last year and $17 billion in 2008.

Retail observers are partly blaming the calendar for the lower projections. Valentine's Day this year falls on a Sunday, which could cut into sales since more than half of all valentine-related spending takes place on Feb. 12, Feb. 13 and Feb. 14.

A survey by the National Retail Federation last month of nearly 10,000 consumers found that most plan to spend the same amount on their sweetie this year as they did last year.

The average person will be shelling out $103 on their spouse, family or friends. Men spend almost twice as much as women -- $135.35 vs. $72.28.

Even pets get to share the love on Valentine's Day. Pet owners queried in the NRF poll said they planned to spend an average of $3.27 this year on their animal companions.

Jeff Paffrath of Paffrath and Son Jewelers in Willmar's Kandi Mall anticipates the same level of romantic spending as last year.

"It's been pretty steady for quite awhile," he said. "We're still fortunate, I think. The economy here tends to be a little better."

For the cash-strapped, rings, earrings and pendants are favorite choices that don't necessarily break the bank, he said.

"Heart pendants are always popular," Paffrath said. "Silver is the new white gold. Silver is pretty popular right now because gold is so high."

About 15.5 percent of the people who responded to the National Retail Federation survey said they planned to give a gift of jewelry for Valentine's Day this year.

The biggest category? Greeting cards, at 54.5 percent. Many of the poll's respondents also plan to observe Valentine's Day with more than one gift. For instance, 47 percent said they would give candy, 35 percent were buying flowers, and 35 percent were planning an evening out.

"A lot of people still do the valentine's thing," Paffrath said. "There's a lot of love in the air."

At Mr. B Chocolatier, the staff is going into overdrive with the production of the sumptuous handmade Belgian-style chocolates for which it's known.

"We are gearing up in a big way. We are making a lot of chocolate," said owner Steve Hanson. "We're anticipating a lot of chocolate sales."

Valentine's Day and Christmas account for the biggest share of retail sales in the candy business, he said.

Mr. B, which reopened under new ownership in December after a hiatus, is getting into the spirit with romance-inspired confections such as solid-chocolate hearts, truffles and chocolate hearts on a stick.

Customer traffic was already brisk last week, Hanson said. "We're seeing a lot of women coming in early. The men are the last-minute shoppers."

He said the store is adding two more cash registers to accommodate shoppers. Hours are also being extended, and for good measure a kiosk will be staffed at the Kandi Mall on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for last-minute purchases.

"When you appreciate somebody, you want them to have good chocolate," Hanson said. "If it's good chocolate, then it comes from the heart."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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