Valentine’s Day spending increased about $7 billion last year, which is about the same amount that it’s expected to drop this year, according to Deborah Brosdahl, an associate professor in the retailing department of the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management at UofSC. Photo by: Matt Tantillo

This Valentine’s Day, love and COVID-19 is in the air as Columbia residents prepare to celebrate the holiday under unprecedented circumstances.

While some residents are opting to stay home, others are eager to venture outside and return to a sense of normalcy. 

“Because of COVID, [people] are probably going to go, ‘Okay yeah, we didn’t do anything last year out of the ordinary, so let’s go out,’” said Deborah Brosdahl, an associate professor in the retailing department of the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management at UofSC. “I think we’ll see an increase in spending at restaurants and maybe mini vacations and things like that.”

At Saluda’s Restaurant in Five Points, Valentine’s Day and the day after are its two biggest days of the year, said owner Steve Cook.

This year won’t be any different. Although Saluda’s is operating at limited capacity, Cook expects the restaurant will be fully booked as in previous years. 

However, Cook said there will be more pressure to make sure guests are in and out in a timely fashion because the restaurant aims to accommodate the strict social distance guidelines Cook has set in place. 

“Restaurants operate on a really, really tight, tight margin, and especially a tight time window, especially on nights like these,” Cook said. 

While the food service industry has had setbacks since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Cook believes Saluda’s Valentine’s Day business means people are ready to socialize again.

“Human nature is to gather with each other,” Cook said. “They want the experience, not necessarily the food.”

Leeann Russell, a cashier from Hopkins, South Carolina, and her fiancée maintain a long-distance relationship, but Russell said they will find ways to make the day special even if they can’t dine at a restaurant together. 

“We send [our gifts] to each other, a week before in the mail, and we open it that night,” Russell said.

Still, she added that she thinks Valentine’s Day is just a marketing ploy to get money. 

“You’re supposed to give love, but you can show love every day. To me, it’s a hallmark day where they get your money and get everybody hyped up and everything, but you should be doing this every day,” Russell said. 

Henry McFadden, a preacher at the Calvary Temple of Zion in Hopkins, South Carolina, also said he feels that the holiday should be celebrated year-round.

“I feed the homeless here in the Columbia area, and my purpose is to make sure that I can do something from the Lord to help them, clothe them and feed them,” McFadden said. “My opinion on the holiday is that it represents one word: l-o-v-e.”

Even though the romantic holiday is widely marketed, studies show many people don’t celebrate the holiday.

According to Groovy Candies, an online candy store, only 52% of people plan to celebrate the holiday. Brosdahl also believes the meaning behind Valentine’s Day is changing. 

Brosdahl said that those who are not in a relationship are spending the holiday by themselves or with friends and family. 

“It’s becoming less romantic for some people and just more about showing that you care,” she said.

Jennifer Paris, a single, stay-at-home mother from Lexington, said she will celebrate a holiday she used to dread with her newborn son.

“I literally just had a baby a week ago, so [my plans for Valentine’s Day are] probably just staying at home,” Paris said. “It’s cute as far as significant others and lovey-dovey stuff, but sad for me. I like to spend it getting my son stuff, but not really as a couple type of holiday. Before my son, I was like, ‘I hate Valentine’s Day.’”

Additionally, if you only have $10 to spend, Brosdahl advises going to Walmart, Target or an independent flower shop to buy small gifts to show a compassionate gesture. 

“I would much rather have that from my husband. I would much rather get a handwritten note about why I’m special than any dinner card,” Brosdahl said.

Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year for Saluda’s Restaurant in Five Points, and the pandemic likely won’t be changing that too much. Photo by: Matt Tantillo

Tables at Saluda’s Restaurant are spaced out to abide by social distancing guidelines. Photo by: Taylor Washington 

Brosdahl believes a good Valentine’s Day tip is to spend less on the little things. “An $8 card may not mean any more to the person you are giving it to than a $1 card.” Photo by: Matt Tantillo