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Diana Shirley creates a floral arrangement Wednesday at Chattanooga Florist.
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Designer Renee Grooms finishes a floral arrangement Wednesday at Chattanooga Florist.

The price of love

Valentine Day spending

* $175 - Average amount spent by a man

* $90 - Average amount spent by a woman

$18.6 billion - U.S. total Valentine Day spending

Source: National Retail Federation

"It's our busiest holiday of the year," she said. "More than Christmas, more than Easter, Valentine's Day - for the chocolate business - is the busiest day of the year."

She brought in three extra people to help produce close to 1,000 chocolate-dipped strawberries and a variety of other products aimed at Valentine's Day shoppers. Most customers will spend about $100 at her shop, she added.

Across the U.S., the average man will dish out about $175 for Valentine's Day, while the average woman will spend around $90, according to the National Retail Federation. In all, shoppers will spend $18.6 billion on cards, candy and gifts this year.

Local resident Takema Darby said she'll head out tonight for a fancy dinner, some shopping and a movie -- and she'll easily spend $150.

"Sometimes I do think it's a little overrated," she said. "But why not just have that one day?"

About 60 percent of adults agree that celebrating Valentine's Day is worthwhile, according to the National Retail Federation. The most popular gifts are candy and flowers -- Americans are expected to drop $1.9 billion on floral arrangements this year, the agency reported.

"We'll do five times more arrangements than usual," said Judy Hacker, owner of Chattanooga Florist. She's sending out a half-dozen delivery trucks in different directions today, each carrying about 30 flower orders at a time.

"Our main focus is the downtown area because that's the bulk of our rose orders," she said. "Everybody likes to get their flowers at work."

Last year, the shop churned out 200 Valentine's Day arrangements -- which doesn't include the large number of last-minute walk-in customers she served. About 30 percent of shoppers wait until Feb. 13 or later to buy their gifts, according to a FedEx survey.

Flintstone, Ga., resident Lee Hartman was shopping for his wife, two daughters and grandson Tuesday afternoon. He thinks the $175 spending average is a little high.

"My wife and I both think this is a little overboard," he said, surveying the store's pink-and-red merchandise. "I do want to get her something to show her that I care, but you shouldn't have to spend a lot of money to show someone you love them."

He said he'll treat his wife of 20 years to a nice dinner this weekend. Since Valentine's Day is on a Thursday this year, celebrations are stretching through the week: Some people celebrated last weekend, some are celebrating tonight and Friday, and still others are waiting until this weekend.

The spread-out celebrations are turning the holiday into a weeklong sales boost for some local businesses. Antonia Poland, owner of Dipped Fresh, said she'll do more sales this week than she normally does in two months.

She supplemented her staff of five with two extra people to help handle deliveries and preparation. The most popular Valentine's Day items she sells are chocolate-dipped strawberries and chocolate-dipped bacon.

"We sell as much bacon as we do strawberries," she said. "Bacon is a great gift for a man or woman. And babies -- I've seen babies gobble down a whole piece before their parents can stop them."

At Fehn's 1891 House Restaurant in Dayton, Tenn., co-owner Colleen Fehn said all of her tables are booked through 8 p.m. tonight -- and she expects the above-average business to continue through the weekend.

"While we can always count on Valentine's Day being full, it is hard to anticipate the day before and after," she said. "But we're feeling like there will be folks out celebrating on Friday and Saturday, as well. Some people just want to avoid the Valentine's Day crush."

Despite the prolonged boost, national spending is up by only $4 per person when compared to last year, the National Retail Federation reported, and about 40 percent of people will shop at discount stores for their Valentine's Day gift.

Betty James has owned Brent's Flowers and Gifts in Dalton, Ga., for 40 years. She said sales are a little lower than usual this year.

"In my lifetime we have done 300 or 400 on Valentine's Day," she said. "It will be less this year because of the economy, but it's still a lot more than a regular day."