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CAPITALIZING ON CUPID : Florists, Candy Makers, Balloonists Take Heart on Valentine’s Day

Times Staff Writer

For the few commercial hot-air balloonists in Orange County, business is expected to soar on Sunday.

Dave and Kim Lynch of Anaheim, who own and operate Above All Balloon Charters, expect demand for their balloon rides to double, and maybe even triple, on St. Valentine’s Day.

Other enterprises that capitalize on Cupid expect similar sales gains. Specialty retailers, including florists, chocolatiers and gift shop operators, report that Valentine’s Day is second only to Christmas in its ability to generate sales.

John Bral, owner of Bernardo’s Italian Restaurant in Huntington Beach, is selling heart-shaped pizzas with messages of love written with green peppers, pepperoni and mushrooms. “The olives are great, too,” he said, “because they make perfect O’s.”

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Bral, who has hired extra workers to handle anticipated demand for his Valentine’s Day creations, said he thought of the idea a few weeks ago. “It’s great,” he said. “I am already getting orders and reservations.”

Sales of chocolates, a more traditional holiday gift, also are expected to be sweet.

Byron Batista, sales representative for Godiva Chocolates in Costa Mesa, said this Valentine’s Day is expected to be busier than last year, primarily because it falls on a Sunday, giving people the weekend to shop. Despite the extra time, he said, “everyone is coming in just frantic.”

Very popular this year are heart-shaped boxes of candy designed for men. They are made from a pin-striped material rather than the traditional red velvet and lace boxes, which are oriented more toward women.

As is the case every Valentine’s Day, business is expected to blossom for florists.

Don Williams, manager of Irvine Florist Ltd., said he expects sales to increase three to four times over typical non-holiday volume. He already has arranged to hire 10 additional drivers to deliver the nearly 2,000 orders he expects to fill this week.

“Roses are always a strong seller,” Williams said. “But people seem to be going more for the arrangements or mixtures of different flowers this year.”

But for a real change of pace, Lynch recommends a balloon ride.

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The airborne entrepreneur already has rented a third hot-air balloon to accommodate the reservations made for this Valentine’s Day weekend, and he is considering renting a fourth.

As a promotion, Lynch is selling Valentine’s Day gift certificates at a 10% discount from regular prices.

People like to take their sweethearts on balloon rides because the flights provide a sense of adventure and romance, said Lynch, who started his business three years ago.

“It’s something they have always wanted to do,” said Kim Lynch, who joined her husband and began piloting two years ago. “It is a fantasy fulfilled.”

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The balloon rides, which begin in either Perris Valley in Riverside County, Del Mar in San Diego County or Palm Springs, include a complimentary champagne brunch served under a canopy near the launching site. The rides range in price from $75 to $175 per person, depending on duration.

The balloons, which do not fly over Orange County because of heavy air traffic, carry the pilot and up to four passengers to an altitude of about 1,500 feet. Other customers ride along in a chase vehicle until it is their turn to fly.

Jim Bilbrey, president of the Southern California Balloonist Assn., said there are about seven full-time commercial balloonists in Orange County. “On Valentine’s Day, they are all booked up,” he said.

Bilbrey, who runs his own balloon ride company, Adventure Flights Inc., said the business is very seasonal. Business becomes very busy during holidays, anniversaries and three-day weekends, he said.

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The business is usually not very lucrative because expenses are high. “It is very, very difficult to make money in ballooning,” Bilbrey said.

The people who run balloon ride businesses usually do it because they enjoy flying. “There is a lot of job satisfaction involved,” he said. “And you meet a lot of people who are there to have a good time.”

And maybe a little romance.


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