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Gearharts chocolatiers 'go crazy,' prep 100K pieces of chocolate ahead of Valentine's Day

Most people make their Feb. 14 plans a week or so in advance, if that. That’s enough time to pick up a dozen roses, pen a heartfelt letter, make dinner reservations.

For Gearharts Fine Chocolates, preparations for Valentine’s Day begin more than a month in advance. That’s how much work needs to get done.

The stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day accounts for almost half of the Charlottesville-based chocolatier’s annual sales, but the week of Feb. 14 alone accounts for the business’ five busiest days of the year.

For the past month, chocolate-makers at Gearharts have been hard at work fashioning roughly 100,000 pieces of chocolate, melting down ganache, dipping fillings in chocolate, crowning candies with decorative touches.

The business’ namesake, Tim Gearhart, estimates that 15% to 20% of the company’s sales occur during Valentine’s Day week. Gearhart said he has to bring on three seasonal workers every year to help out during the holiday craze.

“Valentine’s Day is our single busiest day of the year,” Gearhart told The Daily Progress. “We have to start planning everything out early because we go crazy. It’s always a crazy rush to the finish.”

Beginning the first week of January, a variety of Valetine’s-specific treats are concocted in the kitchen behind the chocolate shop counter in the Vinegar Hill Shopping Center in downtown Charlottesville.

Some new items on display at the shop this season are the chocolate-dipped strawberries (available by preorder only), pithiviers (a puff pastry filled with chocolate, raspberry and almond) and a white chocolate and raspberry bark sprinkled with dried raspberries and Valentine’s candies under the label of Gearharts sister brand James River Chocolate Company.

Gearhart estimated that 300 or more of the store’s best-selling Valentine’s Day products will already be sold by Feb. 14, including the Valentine’s Day Gift Box filled with a nine-piece chocolate assortment, Maya drinking chocolate, dark chocolate caramels and a four-piece assortment of Blackberry-Merlot chocolates.

Aside from the premade holiday gifts, Gearhart said a lot of romantic customers prefer to come into the store and carefully curate an assortment of their significant other’s favorite chocolates. However, the in-person experience will be only an option for those in Charlottesville this year.

Gearharts Fine Chocolates has been operating in Charlottesville since 2001 and opened a second location on Libbie Avenue in Richmond about 13 years ago. As its popularity grew in the state capital, business partners Gearhart and Bill Hamilton decided to relocate the Richmond store to a bigger space in the Short Pump shopping center.

They closed the store on Libbie Avenue in the spring and were hoping to have the new space at 11301 W. Broad St. up and running by Valentine’s Day. However, due to construction and inspection delays, the store will not be open until the beginning of March, Gearhart said.

Despite the temporary loss of the Richmond market, Gearhart said Charlottesville’s sales have increased enough since last year to cover both cities. Online sales have surged since the onset of the pandemic, but Gearhart said he has found that Charlottesville residents continue to enjoy in-person shopping, especially when it comes to local retailers. Online purchases only account for about 20% of the company’s sales, according to Gearhart.

“We’re really lucky to be a part of the Charlottesville economy,” said Gearhart. “We have a solid customer base that continues to value high-quality, affordable luxuries. Charlottesville is such a dynamic food community; it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and it still is today.”


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