Is the Midlands headed for a frigid Valentine’s Day?
A historic snow and ice storm cut off prime shopping days for the lovers’ holiday – and could put an icy chill in some romances if roads don’t clear up soon. But Midlands retailers are hoping for a boost in sales once a thaw sets in Friday.
“If it doesn’t (clear up), it will obviously impact us,” said Rick Gantt, restaurant and catering director for Top of Carolina, a spinning restaurant on the 18th floor of the University of South Carolina’s Capstone building.
The restaurant rarely opens for evening dining, but is planning five evening seatings for Friday’s holiday, serving up special dishes such as lobster and pasta and spaghetti squash soffrito for $29.95 each, Gantt said. Three of the seatings were full by Tuesday.
“We will be full by (Valentine’s Day) and we’re ready to go,” said Gantt.
He is hoping this week’s special day won’t be a repeat of one a few years ago when a winter storm left ice on the ground in Columbia at Valentine’s Day – and put a freeze on the restaurant’s finances.
“About half our folk(s) ended up canceling on us,” Gantt said. “It hurts. All that time put in … all that planning. But that’s not the customer’s fault.”
Snow, sleet and freezing rain have been falling in the area since midday Tuesday and are expected to continue through midday Thursday. But the precipitation should clear up and temperatures should rise enough to melt some of the built-up ice by Friday, possibly making road conditions less treacherous.
“Valentine’s Day is an extremely last-minute holiday,” said Bill Hrisko, owner of Unforgettable Fine Jewelry on Devine Street in Columbia. “I think people are a little nervous that they might not be able to get out, and their wives aren’t going to buy that excuse.”
Still, some would-be Romeos are trying.
At Something Special Florist, located on Main Street in downtown Columbia, sales were brisk Tuesday – a day before the snow and ice storm hit, owner Grant Lorick said. The store was stocked up on 3,000 red roses and a variety of other goodies ahead of the storm. A dozen roses, including delivery around the city, was going for $85 early this week. But customers also were buying other cut flowers, potted plants, botanicals, fruit baskets, candy and stuffed animals, Lorick said.
“Sales have been really good,” Lorick said. “In fact, we’ve noticed people have started a little earlier this year” – maybe anticipating the storm.
Lorick said his staff planned to work through the night Thursday if necessary to get everything ready for Friday.
For many retailers, Valentine’s Day sales are like a financial bridge between the Christmas holiday shopping season and the start of spring weddings, Lorick said. “It’s very important – it helps you through,” he said.
If the roads are passable Friday, retailers should expect “a real big boom,” said Marianne Bickle, retailing professor at USC.
Consumers “can’t get out right now and people are talking about (Valentine’s Day),” she said. “They have almost nothing else to talk about except the Olympics. If they were at work, they wouldn’t be talking about it.”
That should put the holiday fresh on people’s minds as they venture out of the house Friday, she said. Restaurants also should get a boost because people who have been cooped up inside for two or three days with no way to get to the grocery store are more likely to go out to eat for the special day.
Retailers and restaurants “are going to have a rush,” she said.
The bigger question, she said, is: “Can retailers make up for the lost days that they normally would have had traditional consumers … coming in to their stores? That is so important because retailers operate on such a small profit margin. Just a few closed days can cause them serious financial ruin.”
It doesn’t help that many of them had to close just two weeks ago for a snowstorm. “They’re hurting,” Bickle said.