Everything's coming up roses

By Shannon Jenkins

Some glossy eyed lovers may not realize how much blood, sweat and sugar goes into making their Valentine's Day a special one.

Several business owners in Clayton and Henry counties, however, know all too well the hard work involved in this holiday. They spend the week before Feb. 14 taking orders, working late and preparing their goods for those with romance in mind.

All that hard work began for Christian Chiriboga, owner of Floriversal in Forest Park, early this week. Shipments of flowers from around the world began pouring into his fresh-cut flower wholesale business on Monday, and he said he's been busy ever since.

Chiriboga said a variety of flowers are being sent from California, Holland, New Zealand and Columbia. The majority of carnations and roses, he said, will come from his family's flower farm in Ecuador. Chiriboga's company will then distribute those flowers to florists across the Atlanta metro area. He said he expects to have more than 600 boxes full of flowers for Valentine's Day this year.

After receiving the shipments, doing quality control, processing everything and distributing the flowers, Chiriboga said he and his workers will have worked a long week.

"We work about 16 to 18 hours a day," he said. "Usually, we come in about 7 a.m. and stay all day depending on the work."

But for Chiriboga, the hard work is worth it.

"For me, (flowers are) the true meaning of love," he said. "I love the flower business. I grew up on a flower farm. I've been around flowers my whole life."

Since he's surrounded by flowers all the time, Chiriboga said he'll have to be creative when he purchases a Valentine's gift for his sweetheart this year.

"My wife sees flowers everyday," he said. "That would not be a present I could give her. I'll have to find something else."

For bakery owner Charlene Maiolo, cookies and other sweets aren't on the menu this holiday for her and her husband. She said they'll probably just go out to dinner. But for her customers at Baker's Dozen in Stockbridge, it's all about the cookies, cupcakes and chocolate covered strawberries.

Maiolo, who has owned the bakery for more than two years, said those particular sweets are the most popular for Valentine's Day. Preparing all those delectables, however, requires plenty of work. Maiolo said she and her husband will probably work about 70 hours each through Sunday.

"Because Valentine's falls on Monday," she said, "we'll be working here all day Sunday. The day starts around 1:30 in the morning and ends whenever. If I'm lucky, I'll get out around 3 or 4."

To help alleviate some of the long days, Maiolo said she asks customers to place orders a few days in advance if possible. Like Chiriboga, Maiolo said the hard work is worth it.

"I love it," she said. "I love it when we're busy. (I love to) see people's faces when they're happy. When they open a box and everything looks real pretty and they can't wait to get home and eat it or give it to someone."

Maiolo said about 75 percent of her business comes from women. The female clientele, she said, know what they want and let their husbands know.

"We'll be getting a lot of late orders from husbands," she said. "Everyone loves sweets this time of year."

At Simple Pleasures in Jonesboro, owner and manager Jo Lynne McEwen said sweets are also popular.

McEwen offers a variety of chocolate and vanilla fudge hearts for her clients.

"Everybody likes chocolate, and so many people like fudge," she said. "It's just a good combination. The fudge does well anyway, but the fudge hearts are a good draw."

McEwen, who's owned the shop since 1996, said she makes fudge early to meet the demand.

"I try to do the fudge a week ahead so it's good and fresh," she said.

Staying open a little later during the week before Valentine's doesn't bother McEwen, who usually closes the gift shop at 5:30.

"We don't mind extended our time if we have to," she said. "People will start going nuts around Saturday or Sunday."

McEwen said she keeps a sign in her window to promote the fudge hearts for passersby.

"Last year you could see them do a U-turn in the street," she said. "It was a hoot."

If McEwen's shop in Clayton County is too far for some Henry County chocolate lovers, they might find the 2005 Chocolate Fest at the Historic Hampton Train Depot to be a nearby treat.

Linda Hutchinson, an organizer of the event, said about 30 to 45 volunteers help with the fest, scheduled from 7 to 9 Saturday evening. She said workers began setting up tables, lights and decorations around 5:30 Friday evening and wrapped up between 11 and midnight. Organizing the event, however, began much earlier with committee meetings and wrestling up vendors and bakers.

The first Chocolate Fest last year drew about 200 people, Hutchinson said. Expectations, she said, are for the event to get bigger and better each year.

"We've already had a lot of people calling about it," she said. "We're doing a little more chocolate this year than last year because more people are hearing about it."

Hutchinson said tickets are $6 per person and may be purchased in advance from participating merchants on Main Street. The proceeds will go to the Hampton Better Home Town Program.