Valentine's Day

Cathy Lishka, sales associate at Blaine Boring Chocolates, arranges a display with Valentine treats at the 123 Market St., downtown Johnstown. 

Valentine’s Day falling on a Sunday might be a nice tribute to the saint for which the holiday is named, but it’s not ideal for businesses that cater to individuals seeking last-minute gifts for their sweethearts.

But many stores will be open the day before, despite pandemic concerns, hoping to attract Valentine’s Day shoppers, said Ron Froehlich, owner of LaPorta’s Flowers and Gifts in downtown Johnstown. 

Feb. 13 will mark the first time since Memorial Day last May that Froehlich’s shop will be open on a Saturday.

“There just hasn’t been enough people out,” he said, noting that for valentine shoppers, “it’s really not until the last three days when it gets really busy.”

LaPorta’s has stuffed animals, cards and balloons – as well as flowers. 

“It’s a holiday like any other,” Froehlich said. “You prepare for it and go with it.”

Froehlich said he is seeing more people on weekdays at his shop on Washington Street.  

“Even though people say no one is downtown, at lunch hour there are a lot of people, especially nurses and doctors taking walks,” he said. 

And with a continuing decline in COVID-19 cases statewide, businesses, including Froehlich’s, are preparing for increased foot traffic leading up to Feb. 14.

With 30 styles of roses and more than 800 flowers to be arranged at Sandy Johns flower and plant shop in Ebensburg, it will be a sight to see, owner Rebecca Bodenchatz said.

From Tuesday through Saturday, the shop will be full of roses. Two weeks out from Valentine’s Day, Bodenchatz had dozens of pre-orders. 

Sandy Johns opened almost two years ago. “I’ve seen tremendous support for businesses in the mini mall,” she said.

Delivering happiness

The timing of Valentine’s Day falling on a Sunday this year isn’t so great for flower arrangement businesses, said Joelle Hadix, owner of Carriage House Floral and Gifts on Central Avenue.  

“People like to send them to work so that it impresses their co-workers,” she said. “If you are just taking it to the house, it’s not the same, but there will be some people that still will want them sent to the house.”

She doesn’t expect Valentine’s Day to provide a boon in sales for another reason.

“I don’t think a lot of people have money right now because of the pandemic,” she said. 

According to the Department of Labor and Industry’s Feb. 2 press release, non-farm jobs in the Johnstown Metropolitan Statistical Area were down by 900 jobs or 1.8% from November to December, and unemployment was at 7.1%.

By contrast, at this time last year, Johnstown Area Regional Industries’ Workforce Development Director Debra Balog was coordinating a job fair and had 1,200 jobs available from local employers, she said. That was only weeks before the pandemic hit. 

Job losses continue to plague hospitality, tourism and restaurant industries that are not operating at full capacity because of the pandemic, she said. 

“Job opportunities are coming in slow but steady,” Balog said.

‘Pick up candy’

The Fifth Local Eatery and Alehouse opened about three weeks ago, and Corey Crocco, co-owner of the new restaurant, said business has “been a huge success so far.”

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, and Lent after that, he hopes more people will want to visit.  

“I anticipate us being pretty busy,” he said.

Blaine Boring Chocolates owner Mike McGowan said his wholesale business has kept him going through the pandemic, but he hopes to see visitors increase as Valentine’s Day approaches. 

The chocolate shop on Market Street will be open the day before Valentine’s Day, McGowan said. 

“At Christmas time, foot traffic was down and internet sales were up more than average,” he said. “I’m hoping that’s not the case now. You see cases are down, I’m hoping they want to get out and pick up candy for their loved one. We do a lot of chocolate-covered strawberries. Between Friday and Saturday there will be people in here nonstop.” 

At O’Shea’s Candies in Johnstown, Karen Brubaker, who recently transferred ownership of the business to her son, Matt, and his wife, Kristy, described this Valentine’s Day as “melancholy” but resulting in more customers seeking the comfort of chocolate. 

“It seems this year, people are treating themselves more than ever,” she said.

Customers are seeking candy that brings back memories of happier times.

“One girl called to buy boxes of chocolates for each of her brothers and sisters,” she said, “the kind that their dad always bought.”

‘Special things to do’

Brubaker said she likes to help customers find creative ways of expressing their love on Valentine’s Day. She’s been asked to include jewelry in boxes of chocolates.

“It seems this year more than ever, people are looking for special things to do for their loved ones,” she said. 

“And we ship chocolates all over the United States, because people can’t travel right now.”

To boost visibility of new local businesses as people plan Valentine’s Day gifts, Startup Alleghenies has an online directory at Startupalleghenies.com

Startup Alleghenies is a support program for entrepreneurs initiated with a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development 

Its listing includes special romantic getaway at the cabins at River Mountain Retreat in Bedford County and hand-crafted, hand-poured candles from Evergreens Candle Company in Johnstown. 

River Mountain Retreat was already booked for Valentine’s Day weekend, she said.

“An experience is one of the greatest gifts ever for a holiday,” River Mountain Retreat co-founder Meghan Gruszynski said. 

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.

 

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