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Florists have been gearing up for their Super Bowl: Valentine's Day

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

On this Valentine's Day, Americans will spend about $26 billion this year on dinner, chocolates, wine and, of course, roses. Rose prices have nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic. NPR's Stacey Vanek Smith reports.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: It is Valentine's Day. Love is in the air, unless you are a florist.

ROB PALLISER: The three days before Valentine's Day, I'm having - I don't know if you want to call them night terrors, but you're dreaming roses, right?

VANEK SMITH: This is Rob Palliser. He owns Scotts Flowers with his two brothers, and the nightmares are kind of understandable. Twenty thousand roses will funnel through this little Manhattan shop for Valentine's Day. His brother Chris says they've been gearing up for weeks.

CHRIS PALLISER: Valentine's Day - it's the Super Bowl. It's the biggest holiday of the year for us.

VANEK SMITH: And there is no room to fumble. That's the thing about Valentine's Day. People want their 12 red roses delivered to their Valentine today. And you can't even really prepare that much ahead of time because most people place their orders at the very last minute.

C PALLISER: The last two days...

R PALLISER: Insane. At the end of the day, procrastinators still win. That's when everything comes in.

VANEK SMITH: The printer - are those, like, orders coming out of the printer?

R PALLISER: As we speak. Those are Valentine's orders, as we speak, coming in.

VANEK SMITH: More than a thousand orders have passed through this little printer at Scotts Flowers this Valentine's - one every 2 to 3 minutes. Chris Palliser pulls a stack off the printer.

C PALLISER: Two o'clock, 2:04, 2:06, 2:08, 2:08, 2:12.

VANEK SMITH: Most of these orders are for - you guessed it - a dozen red roses.

R PALLISER: A dozen roses in a vase is going to be $135.

VANEK SMITH: OK. That seems like a lot.

C PALLISER: Well, yes, it is. It is a lot.

VANEK SMITH: It's more than ten bucks a rose. But Chris Palliser says it's actually barely enough to cover costs. Even though this is the busiest day of the year for Scotts Flowers and the whole global flower industry, it is not all that profitable this year. The reason - blame the roses. Most of them were grown near the equator. They have traveled thousands of miles to be here. The rising cost of airfare, fuel, labor and shipping have pushed the price of roses way up.

C PALLISER: You want to see the fridge?

VANEK SMITH: Yes.

C PALLISER: These are our roses that we're going to be using.

VANEK SMITH: That's, like, thousands of flowers right there.

C PALLISER: Correct.

VANEK SMITH: Right now, roses are running between about 1 and $3 per stem, wholesale. That is about 50% more than last year. At the same time, customers have gotten very price-sensitive. So Chris and Rob say they just cannot adjust rose prices to keep up with costs. So to try to make the Valentine's math a little rosier this year, Chris and Rob Palliser are offering a bunch of Valentine's bouquets that feature other flowers.

MEGAN VEJBY: For tulips, you keep the bottoms clean. It'll help to maintain the longevity of the arrangement.

VANEK SMITH: Megan Vejby is assembling the Boho Blush bouquet, which features tulips, orchids, mums, hyacinths and a few roses. She stands at a long stainless steel table alongside her fellow florists - silent, focused, trimming stems and leaves with this little paring knife, which is what the pros use instead of scissors.

VEJBY: It doesn't come without its little nicks along the way, but it really helps with speed.

VANEK SMITH: In just seven minutes of trimming and arranging, the Boho Blush is ready. It's very ethereal - white, pink. The price - $185. Scotts Flowers offers several bouquets like these, full of high-end flowers, just not the one flower everyone is trying to get on February 14. And they've been selling very well.

R PALLISER: I mean, listen, at the end of the day, roses are always king and people are going to want red roses.

VANEK SMITH: It's like the panic buy.

R PALLISER: Correct.

VANEK SMITH: All the while, the printer churns out orders for red roses, red roses, red roses.

Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stacey Vanek Smith
Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.