By Josette Keelor
Valentine's Day encourages couples everywhere to take time to slow down for a day and remember those they love.
If you forgot about it until now, there's still time. While lovebirds stress over that perfect gift, area store owners work hard to meet demand.
At Shenandoah Fine Chocolates in Kernstown, Anne Brown has spent long mornings and evenings this week dipping strawberries in chocolate for one of her top gift items every February.
"Valentine's Day is such a short buying season, maybe a week to 10 days at the most," she said. Luckily, good chocolate lasts a long time, she said, so not waiting until the last minute is preferable. The exception is the strawberries.
"Everyone wants chocolate-dipped strawberries," she said. But what makes them so desirable is also what makes them exceptional.
"They're only going to be good for a day or two because you don't refrigerate really good chocolate," Brown said. "We'll tell [people] don't order strawberries for Tuesday and plan to give them Thursday. They won't have that wow factor."
In preparation for her Thursday customers, Brown planned to be at the store early dipping strawberries.
The draw of her store, she said, is "Everything is handmade. [But] there's only so much I can make."
"I had an order for 200 strawberries," she said.
Other popular items, which come in milk, dark or white chocolate, are cherries, truffles, caramels, sea salt caramels and even bacon bark. All can be ordered long in advance and saved for a while, she said.
Many of her customers have learned to start buying from her a few days in advance.
Because the adjoining Chocolate Bar Restaurant in Creekside Station is already booked for Valentine's night, Brown expects increased pickup orders, particularly for the lobster pot pie and lobster risotto.
"That's kind of a romantic alternative to going out to a restaurant and sharing your night," she said.
For those looking for a more unique gift, she recommends pairing one of the restaurant's 90 wines with a box of four chocolates, or even gift-size bottles of salad dressing, which have been popular for Christmas, Valentine's and Easter.
The biggest thing to remember: "stay within your budget and think about the fact that buying a big box of inexpensive chocolate isn't always the best idea. With really good chocolate you only need a few pieces."
Thinking of infusing your gift with more life? Local florists have options anywhere from the $35 "deal of the day" to the $399.95 three dozen long-stem red roses. But on Valentine's Day, they warn, the pickings will be slim.
Andrea Harrison-Mongold, manager of Flowers by Snellings in Winchester, said online orders often are the most trying part of the flower-buying process on Valentine's Day.
"The biggest tip that I can give them is to make sure that they order from a local florist," she said. The first several search results online are not for local vendors, she said -- they're for national companies that might charge customers extra fees to use their services, often calling in the order to a local shop but not charging enough for the local florist to fill the order.
"And then the flowers won't be delivered," Brown said.
Pricing is based on supply and demand. On Valentine's Day, flowers everywhere will be more expensive than they are at other times of the year.
"Our costs go up, we get charged more," she said. "The flowers are shipped in primarily from South America."
Some popular choices at her store are white lilies arranged with roses or other flowers, or the typical roses in a vase.
Customers looking for an alternative to cut flowers might opt for a live blooming plant, said Terry Fogle, co-owner of Fort Valley Nursery.
"This time of the year, we do a lot with the spring flowers and bulbs," he said. Plants like hyacinths, tulips and daffodils are the norm, and range from about $5 to $30. "People always like to see a sign of spring," he said.
Gaining in popularity are orchids, which are becoming the most popular houseplant he sells.
"They're so much easier to care for than what most people think," he said.
Looking for get married on Valentine's Day?
At Historic Jordan Springs in Stephenson, The Valentine's Day Wedding Marathon from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. will allow brides and grooms around the area to enjoy a spontaneous wedding with all the luxury possible for little of the cost.
Gary Patterson, justice of the peace, and his wife Sherrie will perform wedding ceremonies and vow renewals in The Valley Wedding Chapel. Each includes a complimentary Champagne toast, sweetheart cake for the bride and groom and a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres reception for guests at $12 each. Couples must have a valid marriage license obtained prior to the ceremony, and walk-ins are allowed. Couples also will have the chance to win a Hilton Garden Inn honeymoon package. For more information, call Barbara Hineline at 667-7744 or visit historicjordansprings.com.
To contact Shenandoah Fine Chocolates, at 3111 Valley Ave., Winchester, call 535-0010 or email email@example.com. To contact Flowers by Snellings, at 23 N. Braddock St., Winchester, call 662-2255 or visit www.flowersbysnellings.com. To contact Fort Valley Nursery, at 1175 S. Hisey Ave, Woodstock, call 459-5151 or visit www.fortvalleynursery.com.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org>