All you need is love

Valentine's Day holiday offers a wealth of opportunities for romantic gestures

Erma Ozbun loves to watch men shop for Valentine's Day cards. They always wait until the last minute, she says. But they get by with that because it only takes them 60 seconds to select a card.

"I don't even think they read them," Ozbun says. "They see something that says wife and they're gone."

After 20 years of stocking greeting cards at City Market, Ozbun knows the business. And Valentine's Day is the second busiest card holiday of the year, just behind Christmas.

About 60 percent of consumers intend to buy Valentine's Day gifts this year, and 73 percent of them give cards as gifts, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. That keeps people like Ozbun busy.

All Ozbun does is stock cards for Hallmark at City Market in Craig. She worked every day of the week leading up to Valentine's Day, restocking the shelves and straightening cards. Those stocks get depleted the night before the holiday, as all the men rush to buy cards after finishing the work day. But it will be worse the morning of Valentine's Day, when the last-minute shoppers come out in full force.

"The women are good about getting their shopping done, but the men are not," Ozbun says. "By tomorrow morning they'll be in here so deep I won't even try to work."

Ozbun takes her time doing her job, pausing to help shoppers select the right card. "We've been married 25 years, so we don't get soupy about Valentine's Day anymore," said one man Ozbun was helping select a card. "We have enough sense not to go out and spend a zillion dollars."

Most people said they would take it easy on Valentine's Day. Maybe they'll go to the Art Walk in downtown Craig, then eat out at a nice restaurant. Maybe some husbands will buy flowers for their wives. But no one browsing the card rack Friday morning said they had any special plans.

Valentine's Day is big for long stemmed roses, according to the retail federation's survey, as well as Rita Lambert's personal observations.

Lambert is co-owner of The Flower Mine. She and the florist shop's entire staff have been working 12-hour days to meet orders. By Valentine's Day, she will have sold 1,000 roses and several hundred flower arrangements. Because the holiday falls on a Saturday this year, she also has two wedding orders to fill. In the florist world, Valentine's Day runs second only to Mother's Day.

The average consumer will spend $99.24 this Valentine's Day. That may seem like a lot to some, and a little to others. But no matter which end of the spectrum you are on, here are some Valentine's Day plans to fit any budget.

The economical date: So maybe you're not Donald Trump, but you have been Don Juan enough to catch a date for Valentine's Day. The key here is to keep your date busy enough that he or she doesn't notice you aren't spending any money.

All those other Americans may be buying flowers for their dates, but you will not be, because a single long stemmed rose costs $5. Normally, if you lack all ethics, you might sneak into the nearest cemetery and "borrow" a flower from a grave. But the snow is deep and no one is laying flowers on graves this time of year, not to mention the whole idea is just plain wrong. Try impressing your date with your creativity by making a paper flower.

Cut out several wavy circles from different colors of tissue paper, decreasing in size proportionally. If you want a giant flower, cut out giant wavy circles. Layer the paper largest circle to smallest and poke two holes through the center. Thread a pipe cleaner through the holes to form a stem. Voila, there's your flower, but take note: this only works once. The second time you try it, your date will think you're just too stingy to buy her a flower.

You must pray the weather is warm because you're going to be walking. The average cost of gas is $1.62 per gallon nationally, according to National Gas Watch, a consumer advocacy group. Walk slowly and take the long route to get wherever it is you're going, because chances are you're going to have to spend some money when you get there.

A cup of coffee at Serendipity Coffee Shop costs $1. If you don't want to fork over $2 for two cups of coffee, buy one cup, let your date drink it, and then take advantage of the free refill for yourself. If your date thinks you're being a cheapskate, just answer that you're being a responsible Colorado citizen during drought times and don't want the kitchen staff to waste the extra water it takes to wash a second coffee mug.

Dinner is difficult, because it is usually expensive. Treating your date to a fast food joint's dollar menu is no way to go. Take the phrase "eating out" literally, and be glad there is no fire ban in February. You are headed for the park with a package of hotdogs, or some grade D ground beef.

You can think ahead, collect some wood before your date begins, and stockpile it by a grill, or you can prolong the magic by foraging for tinder beneath the deep snow and then struggle to light the damp wood. The fire will not only cook your food, but it also provides vital warmth, protecting you from hypothermia. And keep in mind, a bit of snuggling and shared body heat does wonders, too.

Now for you big spenders, it's time for the most expensive date in Craig.

You love your hometown and wouldn't want to spend Valentine's Day anywhere else. And you want to spend it in style.

Rent a limousine from Alpine Taxi in Steamboat Springs to pick up you and your date. A limo costs $80 for the first hour and $55 for each additional hour, and charges begin when the limo leaves Alpine Taxi's garage.

Since you are paying by the hour, do some sightseeing. Make yours an interstate date by riding to Baggs and back or swing by the Maybell Store and impress your date by buying half their inventory.

Craig might just be a hard town to drop a lot of money in. The most expensive champagne at Dark Horse Discount Liquors is a bottle of Korbel at a very reasonable cost of $14. Since you are a big spender, buy a dozen magnums of it.

Valentine's Day is the biggest day of the year for River Ridge Prime Rib and Lobster House. By Friday afternoon almost every table was reserved from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and the manager expected to be fully booked by Valentine's Day morning. Yet if you're going all out, this could be the place to be in Craig.

Menu items start at $5.95 for an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner and increase from there. Go big by ordering the prime rib and lobster or the king crab for $42.

In the end, the state of your pocketbook should have nothing to do with the state of your heart.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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