• Last-minute romantics can pick things off a dollar tree, bake a pizza or find a gift by any other name


MUSCATINE, Iowa — The last minute is better than never.

Especially when it involves your sweetheart — or at least the guys or gals in your life who need to be reminded how special they are.

Stores in Muscatine stand ready all day today, Valentine’s Day, to sell you everything from flowers and chocolates to sweet-themed running socks and tiny glass roses in celebration of this most affectionate of holidays.

As the voice-over says during certain commercials, prices may vary — probably depending on how deep one has wandered into the doghouse.

At Dollar Tree in Muscatine, for example, where most items retail for — not surprisingly — one dollar, pink and white and red and white running socks were selling Wednesday afternoon on the same racks as plush bears and even plush alligators.

Despite reports of  a nationwide helium shortage, helium-filled heart-shaped balloons were floating out the door as quickly as employees could inject the stuff.

A chocolate long-stemmed rose could be yours for a buck, as could 1.76 ounces of heart-shaped milk chocolate.

A few doors down, at Papa Murphy’s Take ’n’ Bake Pizza, 2604 Second Ave., a delicacy called the “Heartbaker” — a heart-shaped bake-it-yourself pizza pie — was selling for $7.

Of course, one could also go the traditional Valentine’s Day route.

Karen Diercks, owner of The Flower Gallery, 131 E. Second St. in Muscatine, said that despite an offer of free delivery for early orders, many customers were placing their Valentine’s Day orders Wednesday and many are expected in today for last-minute orders of flowers or chocolates.

“There’s been a lot of last-minute ordering this year,” she said, “which we’ve been keeping up with.”

Roses are still the most popular flower choice, she said, but mixed flower arrangements are gaining in popularity. Men generally go for the flower option, while women will sometimes purchase their loved one a plant.

Valentine cards were being snapped up Wednes-day at Kirlin’s Hallmark in the Muscatine Mall, where manager Ann Fitz plans to keep

8 a.m.-8 p.m. hours today.

“There are a lot of people getting off work at 8 a.m., and a lot of people going to work, too,” she said.

Cards aren’t the only things that’ll help you create that “Hallmark Moment.”

The store also has their hand in selling sweets for the sweet.

Among the best sellers this year: chocolate-covered hand-dipped strawberries, which retail for $17.99 for a half-pound and $24.99 for a pound, or about 12 strawberries, depending on the size of the berry.

“We’re going to see a lot of business (Thursday),” Fitz predicted.