Businesses Can’t Catch a Break for Valentine’s Day

Like thousands of New Englanders, Ed Boyer is feeling more than sick of the snow. But for him, it's been a particular curse – he's the owner of Au Chocolat, a chocolate and candy shop on High Street in Boston’s Financial District whose sales have been hammered by sidewalk-choking piles of snow and a city-closing 30-hour shutdown of the MBTA transit system, leaving thousands of potential customers stranded at home.

"We call it the train wreck," Boyer said in an interview Friday afternoon. "This has been a rough week. Rough."

All the more so because this is usually a week that helps make the year for Au Chocolat.

"We roughly do 20 percent of our business of the year" in the leadup to Valentine's Day. "So this is the worst week of the year you could ever have this disaster."

Boyer is taking the highly unusual step of opening his normally weekdays-only business for six hours Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., hoping that even though the Financial District usually falls silent on weekends, he can recapture enough lost sales to justify the cost and hassle.

Also opening early Saturday, at 8 a.m., two hours sooner than usual, are all 52 locations of The Paper Store, which sells cards, candy, jewelry, stuffed bears and all kinds of other Valentine's Day presents.

"It's been a really tough week for us, so we're opening up our stores early tomorrow, to give our customers a chance to get all their shopping done where it's been pretty difficult for the last week," said Mark Grasso, the Acton-based district manager overseeing 12 of the 52 locations.

For restaurants like il Casale in Lexington, having February 14 fall on a Saturday night was going to be wonderful for business.

"Valentine's is always one of the best nights in the restaurant industry," owner Dante de Magistris said. "We always count on it."

But as of late Friday, the forecast is for blizzard conditions to roll in soon after sundown Saturday, threatening a major setback for business.

"In the restaurant business, we're always dealing with all sorts of challenges," de Magistris said. "Right now, with the snow, we're dealing with even more."

Besides his il Casale restaurants in Lexington and Belmont, Magistris and his family and partners also own the Dante Cambridge restaurant at the Royal Sonesta Hotel.

Massachusetts Restaurant Association CEO Bob Luz said it's important to remember that restaurants employ 1 out of every 10 workers in the Bay State, not counting the additional jobs they support in food supply, wine and liquor, laundry, and other businesses.

""It is really a stretch that no one has ever seen. We're always planning for weather, just not that much in that short a stretch of time," Luz said. "Our people are hurting."

Luz is hoping that, as important as restaurants are to local economies and fundraising and charitable causes, people will make an extra effort to get back out patronizing them when the snow melts and the weather improves – and remember how much income their servers and restaurant staff have lost from lost sales and tips during the brutal stretch that began Jan. 26.

"When we wow them with a great experience," Luz said, "maybe you'll leave a couple of extra dollars for the server."

With videographer Brian Butler and assisting video editor Daniel J. Ferrigan

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