Swank’s Take on Valentine’s Day

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Bill Swank outside the Buena Vista Garden Apartments on Cowley Way in 1955 with East Clairemont in the distance.

How many remember this verse from Janice Ian’s poignant recording, “At Seventeen?”


“To those of us who knew the pain/Of Valentines that never came…”

I remember putting Valentine cards into pink and red heart-covered boxes we decorated in grammar school. Some kids probably received more cards than I did; others received less. I didn’t keep score. Perhaps, because I am male, I don’t recall the pain of Valentines that never came.

Valentine’s Day is a female holiday. What guy wouldn’t love a cordless drill or a six pack of Arrogant Bastard Ale for a Valentine’s gift? Take it from personal experience, don’t give your wife (ex-wife) an electric can opener on February 14th.

I recently visited some Clairemont merchants to learn about modern retail trends related to this month’s romantic holiday. A detour was required to learn how (if) Valentine’s Day is still celebrated in our schools.

There used to be Hallmark Card shops in Clairemont. A wide selection of cards is now available at supermarkets, chain drug stores, Walmart, Target or Valentine party headquarters, Party City. Maria Navarro has worked at Party City for ten years. Interestingly, they sell more $1.99 helium-filled, heart-shaped balloons than Valentine cards. A woman once bought 300 balloons.

Another perennial favorite is “Sweethearts” candy, the hard little hearts that say, “I love you, Kiss Me, Be Good,” and other assorted banalities. (NECCO candy company discontinued “Are You Gay.”) The sugary recipe hasn’t changed since 1902 and the tiny hearts reportedly retain their freshness for five years. Maria acknowledged that older customers buy them, because they bring back memories of youth.

From this, I got a sense that traditional Valentine exchanges between kids have changed. What better place to learn than in Clairemont schools? There is insufficient space in this column to explain the various Valentine’s Day practices in our local schools. Individual principals set the tone for Valentine’s Day. Then teachers and parents offer input. Nobody wants student feelings to get hurt, but there is little agreement about how to avoid this. Some teachers do not celebrate Valentine’s Day in their classrooms. We live in sensitive times.

Back to the retailers, a woman at Conroy’s Flowers in Liberty Park Plaza explained, “Flowers are the key to a woman’s heart.” Their busiest time of the year is the two days before Valentine’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

The friendly clerk at See’s Candy on Balboa Avenue announced, “Valentine’s Day is our Super Bowl.” The store has been at the same location since 1971 and is one of the few remaining original design outlets. She was unable to discuss anything further since all inquiries must go through corporate headquarters.

Family-owned TimeWise/Blumenthal’s Jewelers has been a fixture in the Balboa Mesa (Von’s and Kohl’s) shopping center since 1981. Linda Blumenthal admits, “It surprises me how well we do for Valentine’s, because it is so soon after Christmas. We are thankful for our loyal customers who celebrate this romantic holiday.” She added, “Flowers die, candy gets eaten, but jewelry lasts forever.”

In February, long lines (queues) of men standing outside jewelry stores are a common sight in Singapore. They are, per capita, among the world’s biggest spenders on Valentine’s Day.

So ladies, when February rolls around and you want to score, move to Singapore.

Linda Blumenthal laughed. She wouldn’t mind seeing long lines outside her store leading up to Valentine’s Day.

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