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Candy, supermarket flowers and takeout on the couch: A pandemic Valentine's Day

HALIFAX — Canadians are expected to spend less this Valentine’s Day as COVID-19 lockdowns and ongoing economic uncertainty dampens consumer enthusiasm for the February mass-market holiday, retail experts say.
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HALIFAX — Canadians are expected to spend less this Valentine’s Day as COVID-19 lockdowns and ongoing economic uncertainty dampens consumer enthusiasm for the February mass-market holiday, retail experts say. 

Candy, supermarket flowers and takeout on the couch are largely expected to replace artisanal chocolates, rose bouquets and fancy dinners out this Sunday as people look to curb costs, they say. 

"People will still spend money this Valentine’s Day, but they’ll likely just spend less," said retail analyst Bruce Winder.

"A lot of folks have lost their jobs and I think many people are looking to save money."

A report by Hellosafe.ca estimates that Canadians will spend 20 per cent less this Valentine’s Day compared to last year, or about $74 dollars compared to $93 in 2020. The biggest ticket items tend to be dinner, gifts and flowers, the report said. 

The tighter budget could benefit discount retailers like Dollarama and Walmart and as thrifty shoppers look for ways to save money, Winder said. 

Indeed, supermarkets and big box stores that sell groceries like Costco are the only stores that remain open for in-person shopping in some provinces – critical for the last-minute crowd that didn’t order ahead with a florist, he said. 

But the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is urging people to consider buying locally.

“February can be an absolutely brutal month at the best of times and needless to say after 11 months of a pandemic and plummeting sales is not the best of times,” said Laura Jones, executive vice-president of CFIB.

“There’s an opportunity here to make a small business your valentine and give a much-needed boost to Main Street.”

Meanwhile, Restaurants Canada is encouraging people to make in-person reservations where possible or order takeout. 

“Valentine’s Day is one of the best holidays of the year for restaurants – if not the best,” said Olivier Bourbeau, vice-president of federal and Quebec affairs for Restaurants Canada. 

“In normal times, most restaurants are fully booked in a month that can otherwise be a bit slow.”

But after months of struggling during a pandemic, he said Valentine’s Day is more critical for restaurants than ever.

Sales for that one day could help a restaurant survive, and Bourbeau suggested customers think beyond just the traditional Valentine's Day dinner. 

“What’s interesting about Valentine's Day this year is that takes place on a Sunday," he said. "So people can think about supporting a restaurant for breakfast, lunch or dinner."

While some provinces are allowing dine-in meals, restaurants in many regions are only open for takeout or delivery. 

But Bourbeau said whenever possible, customers should order directly through the restaurant, rather than through third-party apps that cut into already slim margins. 

"I do think that many people will participate in Valentine's Day by ordering food and having a sort of quasi-candlelight dinner at home," Winder said. "People are still going to want to celebrate.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2021.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

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