As my favorite holiday approaches, thoughts turn to the candy-filled Valentines so dear to my own heart and to questions on the buying and giving of these frankly sentimental gifts. They begin with:
*When is Valentine's Day?
That's a man's question. Every woman born knows that Valentine's Day is, was and probably always will be Feb. 14, which happens this year to fall on a Thursday. For reasons that are probably genetic, a great number of men can't hold this date in their memories, annoying the women in their lives who can't understand why they can't.
*When are the most candy-filled hearts sold?
In the second week of February, at the very last minute. Dan Bontempo, veteran production manager at Whitman's Chocolates in Philadelphia, swears that 90 percent of all chocolate-filled hearts are sold between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Feb. 13. The statement may be stretching things a bit, but small, local candy sellers agree that business is always brisk on or very near the holiday.
Harry Young of Young's Candies in Philadelphia says he can bank on having at least one frantic, last-minute buyer knocking on the door -- usually more -- after closing time on Valentine's Day.
*What happens to all the unsold heart-shaped boxes of candy the day after Valentine's Day?
Depends. If they're in a supermarket, drug or variety store, they probably will be sold at half price or at least at a substantial discount. If they're in a store where the candy is manufactured on the premises, the candy most likely will be repacked in conventional boxes for sale at regular prices. The heart boxes will be stored until next Valentine's Day, when they will be refilled.
*What's the latest trend in Valentine's Day candy-giving?
Women are giving candy to men. Whitman's is cashing in on the trend. This is the third year for its $14.95 Oxford shirt gift, with a paper shirt and tie decorating a heart-shaped box holding a pound of assorted chocolates.
At Jagielky's Homemade Candies in Philadelphia, many women buy their best guys $3.75 chocolate bars with the message "I love you" or "Best Lover" drizzled on them. Elsewhere in town, women are buying the plain red heart boxes for their beaus.
*Why are chocolates so much more expensive in a heart box than in a plain package?
You're paying for the box, silly. And every year the boxes get more elaborate and, of course, more expensive. Often the package is dollars more costly than the contents. For example, one small candy maker says he spent $3,000 for this year's supply.
*What is a candy seller's worst fear?
Bad weather or, more specifically, a severe snowstorm on Valentine's Eve and/or Valentine's Day. It means that all those men who postponed shopping won't be able to get to the candy store. And the stores will be stuck with hundreds of hearts.
*Why should I give my love chocolates with a fancy name when I can get candy I think is just as good for a whole lot less?
One big reason is that she or he probably knows how much the fancy candy costs -- from $25 to $30 a pound -- and will be suitably impressed. Conspicuous spending is a lot of what Valentine's Day gift-giving is all about.
*Are the candies with the fancy names usually imported?
Some are, but the more familiar ones, such as Godiva, are not. These well-known chocolates are made in Reading, Pa. Another, newer prestige name in chocolate is Neuchatel, and these candies are made in Oxford, Pa., in the heart of Pennsylvania's mushroom-growing country.
Godivas are in fairly wide distribution. The Neuchatel chocolates, on the other hand, are rather exclusive. They're in 10 chic little stores across the country. There's one in the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. Philadelphia has a shop in the Bellevue at Broad and Walnut streets.