How New York Spent Its Valentine’s Day


Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is hard to escape. It’s the one day of the year when all of Instagram is deluged with proud displays of affection and shops are filled with people buying last-minute gifts.

And there was no shortage of pink and red roses, hearts and chocolates in Manhattan, where residents and tourists from Harlem to the West Village had a lot to say about how they planned to celebrate. For the entire day, we hopscotched around neighborhoods, visited popular attractions and even ventured to the top of a skyscraper to capture the scene.

In Times Square at 11:30 a.m., Valentine’s Day kicked off with a proposal for Nicolette Miller, whose boyfriend of five years, Justin Shadday, surprised her with a billboard display asking for her hand in marriage. He got down on one knee amid cheers from people nearby and confetti falling overhead.

“I’m just like, ‘Good job, I’m so blown away,’” she said to a crowd of reporters and onlookers. “I’m very impressed by his creativity.” The couple was visiting from Austin, Texas, along with their dog, Remi.

To avoid giving away the surprise, Mr. Shadday told his now-fiancée that he was taking her to brunch. In fact, they had to report to the billboard outside of American Eagle Outfitters at 11:30 a.m.

“I knew it was going to happen in New York, so I thought, ‘What better way?’” he said, adding that they still intended to go to brunch.

Down in the Times Square subway station, a band performed festive songs while handing out roses and mini heart balloons to commuters. After boarding the No. 3 train to Harlem, Kidadah Leader, 23, waited patiently on her ride uptown with a giant red gift bag.

“I got him some Nike tech stuff, something from Macy’s and some slides,” she said, referring to her boyfriend of three years, Dennis.

“I feel like every day is a love day, but today you can focus more on it,” said Ms. Leader, who knew her boyfriend had lined up a spa trip and dinner, but was still in the dark about another promised surprise.

“He just told me to meet him at the last stop,” she said.

Later that morning on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, Jasper Huggins, a 37-year-old corrections officer, crossed the street in a rush carrying Valentine’s Day bags and balloons.

“It’s my daughter’s birthday, and this is for my girl,” he said while holding up his gifts. He said he was most looking forward to “putting a smile on her face at school.”

On that same block, a few vendors set up displays of bouquets, chocolates, balloons and teddy bears for sale. Sarah Lammer, a 33-year-old artist living in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn stood nearby with her bike; she was looking very festive in a bright red jacket with giant eyes pasted on the front and the words “the look of love” written on the back in glitter.

“For the past five years I’ve been doing Valentine’s scones and card deliveries for my friend’s project called Crumby Spokes,” she said. “All the money that we raise goes to a different organization every year.”

When asked about her personal plans for the holiday, she said she was going to watch a webinar by a trans activist dispelling “the myth of romance.”

A 49-year-old construction worker who gave his name only as Steve slipped out of a CVS across the street carrying a heart-shaped box of chocolates. Who are the chocolates for? “My girlfriend,” he said.

Despite being happy in his relationship, he wasn’t necessarily enthusiastic about the purchase. “It’s mind control, it’s propaganda,” he said. “When you think about the plastic, it’s wasteful, it’s destructive. And if you don’t do it, your relationship is ruined.”

Dylan Marshall, 33, a cardiology fellow at Weill Cornell Medical College living on the Upper West Side, made his way through Central Park with a bouquet of roses he picked up at a bodega and a Valentine’s Day card for his wife, Mytra, who recently gave birth to their daughter, Layla, in December.

“Right now, we’re kind of running on fumes and love, essentially, with our infant, so this year is going to be laid low compared to prior years,” he said. “But yeah, it’s always very special to be together.”

As midday approached, Midtown Manhattan was increasingly abuzz with people scurrying through the streets carrying gifts for loved ones. Dogs dressed in sweaters with hearts trotted on the pavement. On top of the Empire State Building, Charlotte and Pierre Bessieres took selfies together while wearing matching sweatshirts with the words “Toi + Moi” on the front. They were visiting from France for their honeymoon.

When asked to name her favorite thing about her new husband, Ms. Bessieres struggled to find her words but couldn’t hold back the happy tears that filled her eyes. “It’s caused by someone,” she said, while pointing at her belly. With a smile, Mr. Bessieres explained that she was two months pregnant.

Siany Martin, who was visiting from Wales, had brought her two sons, Buddy and Caiden, to the skyscraper’s observation deck. “What’s not to love about love at the end of the day?” she said. “We should celebrate as many things as we possibly can.”

“I’m in a relationship — my boyfriend is back at home,” she added. “I had to come out during the boys’ school holiday. His work shift didn’t fit, so we’ve recorded a video for him from the top of the Empire State Building to wish him happy Valentine’s Day.”

On Fifth Avenue, Mercury Brassfield, 22, waited for the bus in a pink hoodie and pinker pants while carrying flowers and a gift bag with a stuffed animal inside. He had just left a first date with a man who apparently didn’t hold back his affection.

“I wasn’t expecting it because I was like, OK, we’re just going to go out on a date,” he said. “We were spending our time in K-town, and right after that we went to go see the movie ‘Mean Girls.’”

“I was nervous,” Mr. Brassfield said. “It was his idea.”

Later that evening, on a bench in the West Village, Nicole Goldstein and Saimul Hossain, both 22-year-old engineers, exchanged their Valentine’s Day gifts while waiting for their 6 p.m. dinner reservations at Market Table.

“I made him that hat,” Ms. Goldstein said, pointing to the green knitted beanie on Mr. Hossain’s head. He had flowers for her tucked in his backpack, and they still had more presents to unwrap.


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