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Miami-Dade florists, candy shops prepare for Valentine’s Day business

For florists like Elizabeth Potter of Pistils and Petals, Valentine’s Day began not at midnight Thursday, but in the first week of January.

“We barely catch our breath after New Year’s,” said Potter, president of the Miami Beach company.

Cupid’s favorite day is the biggest single business day for American florists, accounting for 36 percent of all fresh-flower holiday transactions. More than half of those purchases were red roses, according to the Society of American Florists.

To move 400 to 600 delivery orders in 36 hours — including 20,000 roses — Pistils and Petals relies five seasonal employees who have been with the company for years in addition to the shop’s staff of 20.

Potter said most of the staff members have been at the shop for at least 10 years. Experience helps with efficiency, and she said they’re willing to work around the clock if needed.

On Monday, the phone was ringing off the hook for bouquets as big as five dozen roses, which runs about $500 at Pistils and Petals.

By Wednesday, the shop was a rainforest of exotic blooms from Europe, the Amazon, and the South Pacific. A refrigerated glass room held buckets and buckets of roses — red, pink, and white, plus fuchsia and peach-colored varieties.

A few floral designers worked quickly at a counter in the back of the shop, trimming stems, tying ferns into ribbons, and arranging vases of long-stemmed roses and birds of paradise, all while singing cheerfully along with the radio.

Their serenity was in sharp contrast with a few harried husbands and boyfriends who worried they waited a little too long to order bouquets.

Ron Mayer, on the other hand, always remembers to buy Valentine’s Day flowers for his wife Tamra. For his wife of nearly 30 years, Mayer, 67, selected a spray of colorful tropical blooms.

“That’s what she likes,” he said.

Across town, Peterbrooke Chocolatier in Coral Gables was packed with mostly women and their young children, who gazed lustily at the shop’s famous chocolate popcorn.

Ana Gloria Rivas-Vasquez comes all the way from Key Biscayne for the confection, which she was buying for her mother, her husband, her three children, and their teachers.

Candy is the perfect gift, said Rivas-Vasquez, 52. “You eat it, you enjoy it, and then it’s gone! You don’t have to store it.”

Other people seem to think so, too. The National Confectioners Association expects 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate to be sold this Valentine’s Day.

Peterbrooke sells those traditional assortments, but the shop is perhaps best-known for its chocolate-dipped strawberries, which employees start making fresh at 9 a.m. on Valentine’s Day. Throughout Thursday, they’ll dip about 30 pounds of the red berries.

At 20 to 25 strawberries per pound, owner Charles McDonald said, “That’s a lot of strawberries.”

He doesn’t expect leftovers.

Peterbrooke doesn’t take delivery orders on Valentine’s Day — “It just gets too crazy for us,” McDonald said — but the shop will stay open as long as last-minute shoppers are coming through the door.

The shop normally closes at 7 p.m., but McDonald couldn’t close until 9 last year.

Most of his customers on Thursday will be men, he said.

“Valentine’s Day is a man’s holiday, and everyone knows how men shop.”

One such specimen turned up at Pistils and Petals around 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“Can someone help me pick out some flowers for my girlfriend?” asked the man, who appeared to be in his late 30s but declined to give his name to maintain an element of surprise.

“I think she’s going to break up with me if I don’t buy her flowers,” he added, with a note of panic.

Fortunately for the man, the florist was prepared for just such a conundrum.

After settling on a bouquet of white, yellow, and magenta blooms, he explained his anxiety: His girlfriend is low-maintenance, but if she asks for something from him, he knows it must be important to her.

“When she asks me to do something, whether it’s take out the trash or buy her flowers, I’m going to do it.”