It’s Valentine’s Day, which means a gaggle of roadside vendors touting roses, Teddy Bears and sentimental paraphernalia at gas stations and busy intersections are vying for your attention.
After watching their average Valentine’s Day sales decrease by 100 to 150 orders in the past several years, local florists say out-of-town merchants are an annual annoyance they’ve grown accustomed to.
“We’re used to it by now,” said Sheila Alvarez, 38, owner of Frank’s Garden Florist at 7600 Eigleberry St. since 1995. “(Business) is still really tight. We have to plan accordingly and learn to adjust to it.”
Expeditiously assembling a row of bouquets in heart-shaped vases just a few blocks down from Sheila, Frank Espino, 55, owner of the 56-year-old Gilroy Flower Shop at 47 Fifth St., said he’s “blessed” to have built up a strong clientele.
“(Police and city) always say they’re going to take care of the problem but they never do,” said Espino, referring to the crop of seasonal vendors whose place of origin and source of products are an anomaly to local florists. “They always say they’re going to crack down, and then they don’t do it.”
Per the City of Gilroy’s Municipal Code, seasonal vendors are required to have a permit and license. As demonstrated by last year – when dozens of vendors showed up to the Garlic Capital (and only four seasonal licenses were on file with the city) – Gilroy’s Valentine’s visitors don’t always follow the rules.
That’s going to change, according to Kristi Abrams, community development director for the City of Gilroy.
The vendor issue is “on the city’s radar,” she said Monday.
City code enforcement officers will distribute an informational flier Tuesday to vendors explaining the rules and regulations of conducting seasonal business, Abrams said. The fliers were typed up Monday and shared with the Gilroy Police Department.
Abrams said GPD officers will be asked to check on vendors Tuesday “if they have time to go by.”
“It will depend on the level of calls they have,” she added, “But (the vendors) are going to see some active enforcement.”
By handing out the fliers, Abrams hopes vendors will gain a better understanding of how to go about conducting their business next year.
GPD Sgt. Chad Gallacinao said the extent of GPD’s enforcement Tuesday will depend on (1) officer availability and (2) other occurrences within the city.
“We will deal with call-ins,” Gallacinao said Monday. “Want want to support our local businesses … that’s a concern that lot of local business have had, and we will address it properly.”
City fees for conducting seasonal business are broken down into two categories.
A non-mobile vendor, for example, is required to obtain a seasonal license (starting at $50) and a temporary use permit ($920).
A mobile vendor must fill-out an annual renewal application ($85); obtain a transient business license ($100 annually or $50 a month); and get a mobile vendor permit ($130 annually). They also must relocate every 10 minutes.
As of Monday, there were no new applications on file for seasonal or transient businesses licenses, according to Irma Navarro, revenue officer with the City of Gilroy.
However, clusters of vendors began springing up in Gilroy Sunday morning.
A handful of sightings included two white trucks camping out in shopping complex parking lots along First Street, and Chestnut Square on 10th Street; a vendor in front of an empty store along Monterey Street next to Sue’s Coffee; a stand near the intersection of First and Rosanna Streets; and vendors at the Rotten Robbie and Chevron Gas Stations along Leavesley Road.
“They even come up to your car and knock on your window,” said Frank’s sister, Gloria Espino-Anaya, who helps run the Gilroy Flower Shop.
Espino-Anaya began rattling from memory a lengthy list of places she’s seen Valentine’s vendors pop up over the years; naming 10 locations before pausing to answer the phone.
“Hydrangeas? When would you need them by?”
On Sunday, a number of merchants set up beneath the awnings of storefronts, including a table in front of Food & Liquor on 10th Street, and a sprawling outdoor tent in front of Fun Party on First Street.
Unless the store owner or employees are conducting seasonal sales transactions under an existing business permit, Gallacinao said third party vendors are subject to the same regulations as any other temporary vendors.
Frank and Sheila say it’s not just vendors they have to compete with.
Ma-and-pa floral shops are also up against corporate stores such as Nob Hill, Bargain Market and Safeway.
Since coming to work at the Gilroy Flower Shop in 1987, Frank recalls Gilroy once had eight locally owned floral shops.
Frank and Sheila acknowledge the recession has curtailed excessive spending on little luxuries (the Gilroy Flower Shop has seen a 50 percent downturn in annual profits over the last five years), although Frank said out-of-town merchants take a noticeable bite of the profit pie every Valentine’s and Mother’s Day. These two holidays are florists’ bread and butter; generating about 40 percent of the year’s profit.
“Oh yeah, the economy has a lot to do with it too, but as far as the day of Valentine’s, the vendors are what really hurt us,” said Frank. “I don’t have anything against them, but if you want to open a flower shop, open a flower shop.”
Unlike seasonal vendors, Espino reminded permanent businesses have to pay taxes, insurance, water, rent and workers’ compensation.
On average, Frank’s and the Gilroy Flower Shop take 150 to 250 orders for Valentine’s Day.
Three to five years ago, that average was around 300 to 400.
If national spending trends trickle down to the Garlic Capital in the coming years, Gilroy florists might see those digits again.
This Valentine’s Day, the average person celebrating the holiday will shell out $126.03; an 8.5 percent increase from last years’ $116.21, according to the National Retail Federation. Total spending in the United States is expected to reach $17.6 billion.
While Gloria laments the vendors’ prices are almost impossible to beat, Frank pointed out a rose by any lower price does not, in fact, smell as sweet.
Customer Dan Saccani, who visited Frank’s Thursday to purchase a dozen roses for his wife, couldn’t agree more.
“Safeway’s flowers die in three days, Nob Hill’s flowers die in four days, and I don’t know what the hell I’ll get from the vendors,” said Saccani, who “likes to support the little guy.”
Orders placed with Frank’s Garden Florist and the Gilroy Flower Shop are guaranteed fresh. If the flowers die within 72 hours, Gilroy Flower Shop replaces them. No questions asked.
Sheila also pointed out Safeway doesn’t deliver its floral arrangements.
Arranging vases of Gerber Daisies Friday so assuredly he could do it blindfolded, Frank, 55, laughed and said he’s almost as old as his flower shop.
“Hopefully it will be around another 56 years,” he said.