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Even Cupid feels pinch Weak economy has some looking to downsize Valentine's Day gifts

Last Valentine's Day, Beth Malloy celebrated the holiday with a weekend trip for two to Philadelphia. Other years were spent over luxurious dinners with extravagant gifts.

But this year, hit by the economic downturn, she and her husband are reeling it in.

No trips. No dinners. Not even stuffed animals for the kids.

"We're not going anywhere. The kids will celebrate in school, and we'll just enjoy spending time together as a family," she said.

It's a trend taking hold not just in Western New York but around the country. Consumers are making fewer flashy purchases, downsizing traditional presents, or turning to more sentimental gifts.

Consider greeting cards. Sales of the inexpensive tokens are projected to rise this year, while jewelry sales are expected to take a more than 5 percent hit, according to IBISWorld Research.

Consumers are expected to spend an average of $102.50 on friends and family this Valentine's Day, according to a National Retail Federation survey. That's down from $122.98 per person last year.

"It's the economy. People are definitely cutting back," said Jennifer Olmstead, store manager at Gordon's Jewelers in the Walden Galleria. "Jewelry is a luxury, not a necessity, so it's easy to cut out."

Olmstead said foot traffic at the store was down 30 percent from last year. The company has tried to combat that with steeper price cuts than usual -- up to 60 percent off.

Amy Sileo, owner of Sherwood Florist in North Tonawanda, has noticed customers paring purchases, too.

She sold out of roses on the big day last year. This year, she's not so sure.

"With a dozen roses at $88, they're getting the half dozen instead," she said. "We're trying to be flexible and help them work with their budget."

That means a lot more orders for mixed bouquets, consisting of less expensive flowers and just a few roses tucked into the bunch. The average price point per customer has dropped, with far more people opting within the $30 to $40 range and fewer purchases topping out in the mid-$60s.

At Choco-Logo, a chocolate factory and retail shop on Broadway Avenue, owner Dan Johnson wasn't sure what to expect.

"Sales doubled last year. The line was out the door," he said. "But we're trying to judge a marketplace where we don't know what will happen."

To hedge its bets, Choco-Logo teamed up with neighboring wholesale florist GRO to diversify its product and price range, offering a half-pound box of truffles, a dozen roses and a balloon for $39.

The stereotypical tendency for men to shop at the last minute makes Valentine volume a tougher guess, too, Johnson said.

On top of that, retailers believe cash-strapped shoppers are unable to get a jump on things, stuck waiting for Friday paychecks before heading out to stores today.

But for now, one thing is clear. Budget-savvy shoppers are looking to get more bang for their Valentine buck.

" 'What will last the longest?' is something we've been hearing a lot of lately," Sileo said. "Suddenly guys are getting very conscious of quality."

e-mail: schristmann@buffnews.com

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