The Day of Wine and Roses

Photo by Mitch Lehman / The Review
Chris Meeske — an alumni of the famed Patina restaurant — ­­says he’s had a vintage year despite the pandemic. People are cooking at home and Mission Wines provides wines from a variety of vineyards and price points.

My dad used to own a card and gift store, and he said that every year he saw the same routine for Valentine’s Day shoppers.
The women would come in a week or so before the holiday and look over each card to make sure it had just the right sentiment. Then, he said, there were mostly men.
“On Valentine’s Day, they would come in and buy the biggest card they could find on the rack,” my dad recalled. “It didn’t matter what it said as long as it was big.”
That apparently also goes for roses — at least for the men who shop at Meridian Gardens Florists, at 915 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena.

Roses are the order of the day on Valentine’s Day. Husbands come by wanting roses to bring home and employees say that they have to be red roses.

“They will come in on their way home from work and say, ‘Give me a dozen roses, or two dozen, or three dozen,’” said Sara Achterhof, who works at the store. “They just want roses, the more the better, and they have to be red.”
So, the cars begin arriving when the store opens at 8 a.m., and the bouquets continue until the store closes at about 8 p.m. Roses have been a big seller at the store of late. The week I showed up, the florist sent a 99-rose birthday bouquet, which took two people to deliver. One woman sadly wanted 55 individually wrapped roses to be handed out at a memorial service.
Store owner Peace Mi said the price of roses is up 20-40% from last year, but the suppliers are more accommodating than in past years.
Rosé is featured in what the owner of Mission Wines, Christopher Meeske, suggests for a Valentine themed wine — as in sparkling rosé — which he recommends for the color.
Meeske — who was head sommelier for a decade at the famed Patina Restaurant in Los Angeles before opening his store — said Valentine’s Day sales don’t compare to those at Christmas and New Year’s. And pandemic be damned: Mission Wines has had a vintage year in terms of sales — up 15-20% during that time.
“This has been a great year,” Meeske said. “We were fortunate that we were designated as an essential business, and we had the infrastructure where we were able to address the needs of our customers and to ease their anxieties.”
Mission Wines — over the past 16 years — has built a reputation as a fine independent store at 1114 Mission St. He’s also built up a strong presence on the internet, where he now even runs Zoom wine tastings. One of the successful promotions of the past few months has been a Zoom wine tasting hosted by Mission Wines and individual vineyards.
There have been 80-100 people participating in some of the tastings where people buy wines after listening to representatives from the store and the vineyards.
Mi moved her business to its current location about a year ago — just in time for the pandemic. Before that, her store had been at a spot on Fair Oaks Avenue.
Selling flowers is a labor of love for her. She has two master’s degrees — one in information services and the other in public health. She also has had a real estate license.
She, along with her husband — an architect — has operated senior and affordable housing in the L.A. area. Mi lives in San Marino — just across the border from South Pasadena — and her children were in and out of South Pas schools during their academic careers.
The front of her shop is filled with potted plants, artificial and silk flower arrangements and wreaths hanging from the walls. The back work area is filled with greenery and emerging bouquets. We sat in a room that was intended for discussion of bridal arrangements — but there hasn’t been much of that during the past year because many weddings have been put on hold.
The shop has also had to cope with the pandemic affecting sales from a Mother’s Day, Christmas, Lunar New Year and now Valentine’s Day. What has been a saving grace are the store’s online sales. Mi said that Mission Gardens takes in about 60% of its business from online sales and about 40% from walk-in trade. She lives for high marks on Yelp. Before she sends an arrangement to a customer, she sends a photo of what she has created.
“I love dealing with people so much,” she said. “I can almost tell — or have a feeling — of what they want from our conversations beforehand. They want someone they can trust.”
To Mi and her employees, the joy is in the creation.
“One of the most rewarding things (to see) is some of the happy expressions from people to the things we do. People are impressed,” she said.
Mi admitted that, alas, being an independent florist is a hard — and seemingly increasingly scarce — occupation. There are so many big online businesses that overwhelm the “little guy.”
“It’s hard to do an independent store these days,” she said. “There are so many platforms and so many franchises that people can choose from.”
Meeske — on the other hand — already had an established clientele before the pandemic.
He noted that people have also been cooking at home during the pandemic and customers have been purchasing more wine for their homes.
“They have been able to walk into a pleasant shop and get recommendations on wines in all sorts of price ranges,” Meeske said. “We can put together a selection of wines and simplify the whole process. We offer ease and accessibility that are attractive to people.”
Yes, COVID-19 is still here, and people may be giving strangers elbow bumps instead of hugs, but the spirit of Valentine’s Day hangs on.
There are huge teddy bears to buy (who buys those?), while the clerks at See’s Candies across from the Ace Hardware store report that business is brisk for those wrapped boxes of chocolates and shiny red heart-shaped boxes.
If you don’t want those — and are of a certain age to remember — you can still buy boxes of Whitman’s Sampler chocolates, along with chocolate roses and, one of my favorites, Russell Stover raspberry cream dark chocolate hearts at the Rite Aid Drug Store on Fair Oaks.
There is once again outside dining, which should put more people in a romantic mood — and will hopefully get restaurant owners’ hearts beating faster.
So, grab a card, buy a dozen roses and pour yourself and your loved one a glass of sparkling rosé.
And remember: For you and the one you love, there is no need for elbow bumps or social distancing. Go ahead. Get close. There’s no social distance or masks needed when you are kissing your long-time love.
It’s Valentine’s Day.