A bleak Valentine’s Day, lovers discover hope in roses, vaccines | New York Information

From CLAIRE GALOFARO and DON BABWIN

The note cards sticking out of bouquets from a florist in Chicago all carry similar messages: “I look forward to celebrating in person.”

“The notes aren’t sad,” said Kate Prince, co-owner of Flora Chicago on the north side of the city. “You are hopeful.”

This Valentine’s Day, Americans are looking for ways to celebrate love amid so much heartbreak and isolation that the coronavirus pandemic extends beyond their year. Some cling to the hope that the most vulnerable and frontline vaccinated workers will ease restrictions on restaurants in the hardest hit locations if the numbers decline. But the US death toll still climbs to half a million dead, and many remain closed in their homes.

Prince said florists strive to keep up with the onslaught of orders from people trying to send their love from a safe distance.

“We’re down,” she said.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, one of the busiest days of the year for many restaurants destroyed by shutdowns to slow the spread of the virus, phones are ringing at restaurants in cities where restrictions on indoor dining have been eased.

In Chicago, the mayor eased restrictions on indoor restaurants this week. Having limited the capacity of the restaurants to 25% and 25 people per room, the restaurants must now stay at 25%, but they can serve up to 50 per room.

The Darling Restaurant is fully booked for this weekend and has been for weeks.

Sophie Huterstein, the owner of the restaurant, said COVID-19 enabled the 2-year-old restaurant to achieve the impossible: making people happy to agree to a 4pm reservation.

“People are very flexible,” she said.

You’re ready to do something else this Valentine’s Day too on a weekend where the high temperature hits the teens and the low drops well below zero.

“We have 14 greenhouses and people come out in full ski gear,” she said.

In New York City, America Bar Restaurant in the West Village is also fully booked for Valentine’s Day, with a long waiting list and high demand for the newly approved 25% indoor table capacity, said David Rabin, a partner with the restaurant. More seats and the governor’s decision to postpone closing times from 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. have enabled him to give his workers more shifts.

“It’s a welcome gift for us,” he said. “It was great.”

The T Bar NYC Steak & Lounge on the Upper East Side is also fully booked. Owner Tony Fortuna says some of his customers won’t dine indoors and he understands, but for those who crave restaurants, 25% is a good start. It gives people a glimmer of normalcy in a heartbreaking time.

“It motivates everyone, we see a bit of hope,” he said. “It’s all about perception: you see people go out and move around in them, and everyone feels in a different mood.”

In Portland, a couple who have been married for 55 years have special plans for Valentine’s Day.

Gil and Mercy Galicia have barely left their home for nearly a year since the lockdown began, their daughter Cris Charbonneau said. They had seen their close-knit family, three children and six grandchildren scattered across the country.

Like many seniors, the year was particularly tough for her. They immigrated from the Philippines in the 1960s and have lived in their home on half an acre for more than 40 years.

Mercy, 80, is a cancer survivor and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s early. 88-year-old Gil was walking the mall every day to keep active, but hasn’t been for a year. He fears isolation has set them back and he doesn’t know how much longer they can live alone.

“We are losing years, COVID stole this time that is so precious,” said Charbonneau.

You don’t have a computer. When the vaccine became available, Gil called everywhere and couldn’t get through. Charbonneau was on a video call with them Thursday and saw a tweet from a local news channel that the grocery store near their home had opened appointments online.

She got up to get two appointments. She didn’t pay attention to the date. She told them she had booked them for Sunday February 14th.

“This is Valentine’s Day!” her father exclaimed and smiled at his wife.

“What a great way to celebrate my love for you.”

They hung up. Your daughter was crying.

“We needed that,” she said, “some hope.”

Babwin reported from Chicago and Galofaro from Louisville, Kentucky. Associate press journalists Tom Hays and Julie Walker were from New York City.

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