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Published: Thursday, 2/12/2009

Recession may clip cupid's wings

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Salesman Sonja Drummond, left, helps customer Nicki Brashear at the Vosges Haut Chocolat store in Chicago. Analysts and experts predict Americans will spend less this year on Valentine's Day gifts such as chocolate and dinners. Salesman Sonja Drummond, left, helps customer Nicki Brashear at the Vosges Haut Chocolat store in Chicago. Analysts and experts predict Americans will spend less this year on Valentine's Day gifts such as chocolate and dinners.
CHARLES REX ARBOGAST / AP Enlarge

Even in this unlovely economy, chocolate and a candlelit dinner have a date for Valentine's Day. Diamonds and special-delivery flowers, though, are on the outs.

With Valentine's Day falling on a Saturday this year, restaurants and travel companies are rolling out promotions.

But that same calendar quirk may be hard on florists, because fewer sweethearts will send bouquets to the office.

The Ruth's Chris Steak House chain is offering a three-course meal it's calling "Ruth's Classics" for about $40 - far below its average $75 check and the $150 special for two it rolled out last year at Valentine's Day.

Chief Executive Officer Michael O'Donnell told investors last month that Ruth's Chris is lowering prices because fewer people are celebrating special occasions at the chain.

Many hotels wouldn't bother offering an overnight package if Valentine's Day fell on a weekday, when it creates little or no bump in occupancy. But a weekend Valentine's Day could add $250 million in room revenue to U.S. hotels, said Mark Lomanno, president of Smith Travel Research.

Simpler gifts like these stuffed bears at a Wal-Mart in Cleveland may be a more popular option than diamonds. Simpler gifts like these stuffed bears at a Wal-Mart in Cleveland may be a more popular option than diamonds.
TONY DEJAK / AP Enlarge

Three-star and four-star hotels in New York, Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are charging 15 percent to 20 percent less than they did on last year's Valentine's Day weekend, according to Hotwire, an online travel agency that specializes in discounted rooms.

Jewelers still stumbling from the dismal holiday season don't expect business to pick up, despite price cuts and moves toward more-affordable items.

Tiffany & Co. cut prices on diamond engagement rings 10 percent to stem the tide of customers opting for cheaper rings or postponing engagements.

"A lot of people used to make Valentine's Day a very big event. They'd buy frivolous gifts, a diamond necklace; there was even advertising for BMWs," said Marcia Mogelonsky, an analyst for Mintel International Group Ltd., a Chicago research firm.

Another research firm, IBISWorld Inc., predicts spending for Valentine's Day will fall to $28.6 billion, 4.8 percent below last year.

It expects couples will choose chocolates or greeting cards instead of pricier gifts such as jewelry and dinners.

Chocolatiers and candymakers are bracing for shoppers to spend less, but still to spend.

Seattle Chocolate Co. is targeting couples who opt for a money-saving night of dinner and a movie at home with "Date Night": two chocolate bars and two romantic movies on DVD for $27.



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