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Fresh flowers are on display at a grocery store in St. John's on Friday, February 2, 2024.Sarah Smellie/The Canadian Press

Those in northern Labrador looking for a Valentine’s Day bouquet for their sweetheart may be out of luck this year after freight costs led one store owner to stop ordering fresh flowers.

The Franks General Stores in Hopedale, Makkovik and Nain were among the last to import fresh flowers for Feb. 14 romance in the five fly-in Inuit communities along Labrador’s north coast. Owner Patty Dicker says recent changes to shipping cost calculations by the airline serving those communities have made bringing in blooms far too expensive.

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Flowers have always been complicated and pricey to fly in, and margins were already small, Dicker said in an interview.

“It’s always a nice touch to be able to give your mom flowers on Mother’s Day or your sweetheart flowers for Valentine’s Day, so we'd kind of do it as a gesture to the people,” she said. “But now it’s just the freight is prohibiting us from doing it.”

“I didn’t want to pass that extra cost on to our customers,” Dicker added.

The prohibitive costs are symptomatic of a larger problem in the region, where transport costs make essentials like food, clothes, fuel and building supplies expensive.

During the winter, groceries and dry goods are flown from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, in central Labrador, over a vast stretch of rocky taiga to the small towns scattered along the region’s coastline. The freight is typically transported on an Air Borealis Twin Otter. In the summer, goods can be shipped by ferry to these communities, at a much cheaper cost.

Fresh flowers also can’t survive more than a minute or two in northern Labrador’s frigid winter temperatures, said Carmen Sheppard, who owns Sheppard’s Variety in Postville, N.L., which is home to about 190 people. They have to be driven from the plane to the store in a warm vehicle, rather than behind a snowmobile with the rest of the freight.

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Sheppard used to bring in fresh flowers for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, but she said she hasn’t done it for at least six years. With shipping costs, she said she'd have to charge at least $60 for a small bouquet.

“The freight costs are crazy,” she said.

Rachel Edmunds, owner of A & K Variety in Makkovik, which is home to about 365 people, said she has never stocked fresh flowers and she doesn’t plan on starting. And Brent Smith with the North West Company cited cost and the region’s weather as reasons flowers are no longer brought in to the Northern Stores in Nain and Rigolet, home to 1,200 and 325 people, respectively.

Dicker said her staff noticed a sharp increase last year in the price to bring flowers in – about “three or four times” higher than the year before – and the stores wound up losing money. As non-essential cargo, the flowers were subject to the airline’s new system of calculating freight charges based on the package’s dimensions rather than its weight.

The new cargo charges don’t apply to freight deemed essential, like food, she said. But it does apply to items like snowmobile parts, which can be crucial for north coast residents. They rely on them to go hunting, which offsets the high cost of food.

“Everyone on the coast has seen the increase in freight charges,” Dicker said. “I guess it’s part of living in a remote, isolated community.”

Air Borealis did not respond to a request for comment.

Sheppard said people determined to get their valentine fresh flowers can always order them from a store in Happy Valley-Goose Bay or Labrador City and pay the shipping cost of more than $50 themselves. But she suspects couples on the coast will find other ways to cozy up this Valentine’s Day.

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