www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-snowy-valentine-20140213,0,2380076.story

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Florists scramble to deliver amid snowstorm

Lack of staff, drivers makes Valentine deliveries a challenge

By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

7:30 PM EST, February 13, 2014

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Buckets of baby's breath, tulips and irises filled a walk-in cooler at Flowers by Gina D. on Thursday. Vases were wrapped with pink ribbons, and teddy bears and greeting cards stood ready for purchase.

Missing were the four drivers who had been scheduled to make about 100 deliveries the day before Valentine's Day, leaving the store scrambling during its most lucrative time of the year.

"Some of my drivers can't even get out of their street," said Regina Davis, who owns the shop on North Charles Street with her husband, Jonathan.

The Davises were among the florists adjusting their preparations for the holiday of love, as the region digs out from this winter's biggest storm.

Beyond the challenge of delivering hundreds of arrangements on slippery roads, the storm set up many other logistical headaches for merchants holding perishable inventory shipped in from far away.

Many customers waited until the last minute to buy flowers, and those who didn't were scrambling to change delivery addresses as their loved ones' employers told them not to come into work.

"It's insane," said Lord Baltimore Florist owner Jacqueline Dezes.

She'd been up since 3 a.m. and was missing about half of the workers who were scheduled for Thursday. By midmorning, those who made it to the store were balancing phone calls, arrangements and walk-in customers like Mark Ross, who wanted something different from the traditional roses for his wife.

"She'll love it," Ross said as Dezes finished an arrangement featuring a red vase, tropical flowers and a glittering heart decoration.

"I think it's more about the thought of it, that you stopped and did it," said Ross, who works as canine security captain at Mercy Medical Center across the street. "And now that it's snowing, it makes it even more special."

About half the workers who were scheduled Thursday made it to the North Calvert Street store, Dezes said.

That was just one of the problems she was facing. Many customers had ordered flowers to be delivered to workplaces, but wanted to change delivery destinations because so many businesses had closed through the weekend. She predicted that she would need twice as many deliverymen as a typical Valentine's Day because of bad roads.

At Flowers by Gina D., Regina Davis said more than 10 people had been scheduled to work at her store, but only she, her husband and lead designer Christopher Blackwell showed up.

The Davises, who live in Baltimore County, stayed in a hotel near the store Wednesday night. Blackwell's bus got stuck twice as he traveled to work.

The dozens of orders scheduled for delivery Thursday will have to be made on Friday, she said.

"We're just asking people to try to understand," she said as Blackwell filled clear vases with flowers for the "European Romance" arrangement featuring hot pink and red roses.

Paula Dobbe-Maher, owner of Dutch Floral Shop at Belvedere Square, was relieved that about 1,500 roses she ordered from Ecuador arrived at BWI on Wednesday night.

"This kind of weather is very, very difficult because sometimes the airports just cut off the transportation of perishables," she said. "It was kind of a stressful few days. ... I always let them come as late as possible so they're as fresh as possible, but it's also a risky thing."

Kaitlin Radebaugh, a manager at Radebaugh's Florist & Greenhouses in Towson, said the shop was "actually doing very well" Thursday despite the snow, though she said walk-in traffic was down.

The morning was slow as public works crews cleared off area roads. Nobody came in until 11 a.m. But after lunchtime, the phones were ringing off the hook.

"It really will be the single biggest day of the year," she said, with about 1,000 deliveries scheduled on Valentine's Day.

The Towson florist rented several SUVs for its delivery drivers, and asked them to pick up stranded employees and bring them to work. Radebaugh said the company managed to get about 600 orders out early on Wednesday in advance of the snow.

"People were very understanding," she said.

On Thursday, as workplaces announced that they would be closed into the weekend, customers began to call in to change delivery addresses.

"Deliveries that we had scheduled for schools, or teachers, we are trying to be rerouted to their homes," she said.

She said it isn't the first time they've dealt with snowstorms around the holiday.

"To my dad, it feels like every other year," she laughed.

Cindy Lane, owner of an Edible Arrangements on Joppa Road in Perry Hall, said she was "praying a lot" on Thursday.

"We're praying we can get through this," she said. "We're making it now, hoping we can get through."

She said the store stopped taking orders for Thursday early in the week when forecasters began predicting heavy snow. As for Friday's orders, "if it gets to a point where it's a safety issue, we don't want them out on the road," she said.

Last year, they made about 500 deliveries. "It's a big day," she said.

"Every year, when they call for snow, we tense up," she said, adding that this is the first major snow the store has had to deal with. Unlike other snow days, she said that on "Valentine's Day, everybody wants it on that day."

And although she said the parking lot outside the store still had not been plowed Thursday afternoon, employees made it in to prepare Valentine's arrangements. "All of our personnel is essential personnel on Valentine's Day," she said.

The snow also had an effect on other businesses that cater to romantic occasions.

In Annapolis, John Baghdadlian and his father shoveled the wet gray muck away from the front of their jewelry store. Normally, Thursday would have brought a big rush of sweethearts picking up Valentine's Day gifts at La Belle Cezanne Jewelers, he said.

"This couldn't have happened at a worse time," he said.

Albert Kirchmayr, at Kirchmayr Chocolatier in Timonium, said Valentine's Day brings the most business of the year. But he said he had few customers Thursday because of the snow.

"Sure it's a lost day … but everyone will be here tomorrow," he said.

Kirchmayr also predicted more business Saturday, as customers would stream in for late gifts.

He said he's not too concerned because he can recall multiple significant snow storms before Valentine's in the 26 years the store has been in business.

"Those people who usually come the day before are going to be coming tomorrow," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Erin Cox and Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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