Is this the worst Valentine's Day ever?by Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
Paul McCartney may insist you can't buy love. But it's turning out that money and love, or at least the expression of it, seem to have quite a bit to do with each other this year.
Minneapolis — Call it the love downturn. Everything from diamonds to dinner out is being put on hold these days.
The economic analysis firm IBIS World says jewelers are expecting a drop of about 5 percent in Valentine's Day sales nationwide. Hotel occupancy rates have fallen about 10 percent since last fall, and industry analysts expect sales at upscale restaurants to drop from 12 to 15 percent this year.
Local florists fear their sales this Valentine's Day could be down 20 percent or more compared to a typical year. That's partly because the holiday falls on a Saturday, and weekend sales are usually lower anyway.
But Minneapolis florist Roger Beck says even a bad Valentine's Day will be a welcome bump. He recently had to lay off one of the employees at his high-end shop. He's also had to shelve his plans for his Web site, since the economy tanked last fall.
"There's a lot of people that are not going to be spending as much as they have done in the past," said Beck. "But we think they really are going to be doing something. Even if you're not getting a dozen roses, to come in an buy a rose. You can afford that. It's a nice gesture. It shows you care."
The little things can make a difference, according to Bill Doherty, a professor at the University of Minnesota who also has a private counseling practice for couples.
Doherty sees the interpersonal effects of the financial downturn, both as an academic and among his clients.
"I think if you're single, and you're on the make, it might not be quite as much of an issue," he said.
It might mean skipping a night out at a fancy restaurant like La Belle Vie, for instance.
"But for married couples, who unfortunately tend not to date enough, particularly after they've had kids, they're even less likely to go out alone," Doherty added. "And for those who do date, I think the challenge is going to be that the amount of money that you spend, the money doth not the date make. ... The main thing is to enjoy yourselves while being out."
Doherty suggests couples commit to quality time with a smaller pricetag, like just going for a walk together.
There are some broader signs of the recession's effect on relationships, too.
St. Mary's Medical Center, the St. Cloud hospital and Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis all reported dips in births at their maternity wards in recent months.
They're not big drops, but Minnesotans do seem to be making fewer babies of late. At St. Mary's in Duluth, for instance, births had been rising, but the hospital's monthly average actually dropped by 11 percent for the last half of 2008.
Ironically, there's also been a dip in the number of divorces in Minnesota, as well.
Data from the state Supreme Court show that filings to dissolve the bonds of holy matrimony were trending down as the recession deepened, although there have been much wider swings in the numbers in the last five years.
While financial stress can contribute to marital stress, observers also think the economy is actually keeping some couples together.
Shrinking home equity, the difficulty of getting credit and plummeting home values may be making it more difficult for spouses to go it alone, no matter how unhappy their marriage.
Ironically, financial setback may even help some relationships.
"That's the thing we know about major family stress -- a crisis of kid's illness, unemployment, health problems -- that people tend to go one of two ways," said Doherty. "Some of them rally. They don't welcome the stress, but they feel better about themselves. It brings out their resilience, their strength. Others go the opposite direction,"
Maybe even way in the opposite direction.
The Smitten Kitten store sells sex toys and accessories from its location on Lyndale Ave. in Minneapolis. Clare Jacky is a manager there, and says their business is booming for Valentine's Day.
"I do think that people are in a mode of reinvesting in themselves and their relationship, and recommitting to their health and to one another by having more sex. And more imaginative and creative sex," said Jacky.
So maybe you're never too broke to have a Happy Valentine's Day.
- All Things Considered, 02/13/2009, 5:23 p.m.