City, Coronavirus, News

Boston still bustles for Valentine’s Day

While the pandemic has pushed some of Boston’s Valentine’s Day shoppers online, businesses that typically experience a surge around the holiday say demand remains high.

Boston businesses are still experiencing high demand for Valentine’s Day products despite the pandemic. HANNAH YOSHINAGA/ DFP FILE

Ross Verbiyan, owner of Back Bay Florist on Massachusetts Avenue, said he usually only sells out a day or two before Valentine’s Day.

“This year, I sold out for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Verbiyan said. “It’s been a shocker, but I mean ultimately, it’s been much faster than we had anticipated given COVID and everything.”

The shop orders its roses several weeks in advance, Verbiyan said, which can make planning during periods of unpredictable demand difficult.

He cut the shop’s usual order in half this season, expecting that Bostonians wouldn’t be celebrating the holiday together this year, but orders from customers started coming in as early as January.

“It leaves me a little bit upset about all these people that are calling and I have to let them down,” Verbiyan said. “But ultimately, I can only do so much, and I need to make sure that my flowers get here and I have them available for all the pre-orders.”

Things are just as busy in the South End, said Larry Bornstein, third-generation owner of Olympia Flower Store — which opened in 1903 and continued operation through the 1918 flu pandemic.

Bornstein said business has remained steady despite the pandemic, as “happy occasions” such as birthdays have kept pace, while a spike in funerals fuels heightened additional demand.

“People are buying more for themselves, because they are home,” he said. “They’re buying a lot of plants, and they’ve been buying flowers for themselves to keep them happy. And they’re still sending a lot of orders up and a lot of balloons.”

At Flores Mantilla, a Marblehead-based florist with a second location by the South End, customers have shifted strongly toward online orders and delivery options, said employee Libby Browning.

Although the shop has yet to sell out of its over 600 roses — purchased specifically for Valentine’s Day — Browning said they are optimistic about upcoming sales.

“We’re feeling great,” she said. “We know that our customers are loyal. We know that we produce amazing flowers and beautiful arrangements, and that’s what the holiday is really about: giving amazing stuff to people you love and care about.”

For Verbiyan, the pandemic has also made home flower deliveries much easier to coordinate.

“When you order flowers for someone, they typically don’t know that they’re receiving them,” Verbiyan said. “For us to know that most people are home right now, or at the address that’s listed, it’s easier for us to deliver for sure.”

Florists aren’t the only ones still seeing a spike in delivery orders this season.

Elaine Hsieh, co-founder and master chocolatier at EHChocolatier in Cambridge, wrote in an email the company has seen a “significant” increase in Valentine’s Day orders this year.

“Since we’re both a retail shop and online store and most of this increase is online, we didn’t have to make any significant changes in our usual business operations,” Hsieh wrote. “Just worked harder.”

At Beacon Hill Chocolates, online orders have increased to about 80 percent of all Valentine’s sales, said owner Paula Barth, and heart-shaped gift boxes are already running low.

“It kind of takes away from coming into the store and having that chocolate shop experience we offer,” Barth said. “I’m a people person, and I miss that interaction.”

Despite online sales, Barth said she was nervous that a decrease in last-minute foot traffic, which usually picks up a few days before the holiday, could cut into typical revenues.

“I need two big days, the 13th and 14th, so that is a bit nerve-wracking,” she said. “If I could get the foot traffic, that would be a big win. But I just don’t see it.”

While walk-ins remain limited at Back Bay Florists, Verbiyan said he still plans on running his annual last-minute special this Valentine’s Day.

“My last customer that comes in for a walk-in, I give them their arrangement for free,” he said. “I feel like we need to reward people that are coming in late, whatever the situation is. Latecomers, I’ve certainly fit into that boat as well.”

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