By Shelley Widhalm for Northern Colorado Life
As the Sweetheart City celebrates its 75th Valentine season, a little re-imagination will make the holiday and the Loveland love campaign safe and fun during February.
The Sweetheart Festival, the nation’s largest Valentine’s Day festival, has been cancelled this year, but in its place several socially-distanced smaller destination events will be held across Loveland.
The valentines that get hand stamped, cacheted and cancelled by volunteer stampers at the Loveland Chamber of Commerce will be handled a little differently, too. The Chamber and U.S. Postal Service will partner to still get out those special valentines to 50 states and 110 countries through the Valentine Remailing Program.
“This is a very special year for Loveland and this amazing program. So much has rocked the world recently, and we are honored to help spread love, joy and unity when people need it most,” said Mindy McCloughan, president of the Loveland Chamber of Commerce, during a press conference Dec. 29 at Chapungu Sculpture Park at Centerra when this year’s valentine card, verse, cachet and postmark, plus the new edition of USPS’s love stamp, were announced. “Our designs and verses this year not only reflect the 75-year history of the program, but they also demonstrate that COVID-19 is no match for love.”
The Card, Cachet and Postmark
McCloughan, with the help of past Miss Loveland Valentines, unveiled the official valentine card, designed by Loveland resident Beata McKee, who also wrote the verse inside. The card depicts a large heart with historic photos of the remailing program, including a few of former chamber president Ted Thompson, who helped launch Loveland’s legacy as the nation’s Sweetheart City.
“Ted realized that Loveland, Colorado, had a unique opportunity to share a little love and friendship with the people of the USA and, indeed, the world through the Valentine Re-mailing Program,” said Ashley Arthur, Miss Loveland Valentine for 2020, reading from a history of the program.
Corry McDowell of Loveland designed the envelop artwork featuring the remailing program’s trademark cowboy cupid holding onto a red heart depicting the Love Locks sculpture next to Lake Loveland. The verse inside the heart was written by Judy Rethmeier, also of Loveland, and states, “Let’s unite our hearts/ This Valentine’s Day/ Our Sweetheart City/ Will lead the way.” McDowell also created the commemorative 75th anniversary postmark.
The Love Stamp
The chamber partnered with the USPS to unveil the 2021 love stamp, a 55-cent forever stamp. Artist Bailey Sullivan created the stamp under the direction of Greg Breeding, USPS art director and CEO of Journey Group.
“It’s the first year someone actually got to do the drawing,” said Jacquie Leivestad, supervisor of customer service at the Loveland Post Office and coordinator of the remailing program, adding that the stamp typically is issued through the post office’s headquarters. “It’s so special, especially now during the times people can’t reach out and touch each other. … Mail really touches someone’s heart.”
The last time a stamp was issued out of Loveland was in 1999—the USPS initiated the love stamp series in 1973 and launches it out of a different location every year. This year, the stamp will go on sale Jan. 14.
“It’s pretty cool to see the postal stamp be added to the program,” McCloughan said. “It’s only going to help market the program further throughout the U.S.”
Every piece of mail coming through the remailing program will be stamped with the cachet, canceled and postmarked, a job normally handled by 50 volunteer stampers working daily at the chamber office the two weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. This year because of social distancing restrictions and the age bracket of the stampers, the 10 days of stamping will be handled by business sponsors who will send over groups of up to 10 employees.
A few of the regular volunteers will help at the 29th Street post office, sorting mail and putting it through the postmark machine and backfilling any of the sponsor days if there aren’t enough volunteers.
With the help of the volunteers, the chamber and USPS process an average of 120,000 valentines, making it the largest program of its kind, and in peak years, the number is more than 300,000 valentines.
“We are choosing to remain positive and laser focused on fostering the continued success of the program despite the restrictions put in place,” McCloughan said. “Our number one priority is to keep our volunteers safe and continue to provide a much needed service of sharing love throughout the world.”
The Valentine Beverages
The remailing program has grown over the years with the addition of valentine-themed beverages and events. During the press conference, the chamber and its partners unveiled the Loveland Valentine Wine, Beer and Coffee for 2021.
Sweet Heart Winery in Loveland produced the wine for the second year in a row. It is a special edition 2018 Malbec with notes of sugarplum, red cherry and black raspberry and has a custom-designed label by Loveland artist Billie Colson. Four hundred bottles of the wine will be available Feb. 2 at the winery.
The beer, called Bleeding Heart, a barrel-aged Baltic Porter brewed with vanilla and bourbon, comes from Grimm Brothers Brewhouse.
The coffee is a creation of Top of the Lake Roasters in Berthoud. It is a Columbian brew with a gingersnap flavor and will be sold exclusively at the Loveland Visitors Center. This is the eighth year for an official valentine coffee.
“The aromas and flavors make the coffee unique,” said Brent Bromstrup, roastmaster and owner of Top of the Lake Roasters.
The Reimagined Events
To top off the remailing program, the chamber partnered with the Visitors Center to offer a season of love with smaller celebrations instead of one large event.
We reimagined what it could look like to produce a safe, socially distanced, fun event that wouldn’t be on just (two days); rather it would last several weeks where people feel safe and can still have fun,” said Cindy Mackin, manager of the Loveland Visitors Center.
The Re-imagined Sweetheart City Experiences include:
Quest for Dan Cupid: Participants in a socially-distanced scavenger hunt Feb. 1-14 will follow clues to find Dan Cupid. The event, modeled after the Christmas gnome scavenger hunt, will start at the LOVE sign and Love Lock sculpture for a chance to win a Loveland experience with a hotel stay, food and shopping, valued at $800. Information is available at VisitLovelandCO.com.
Art Installation: Something Red in the Loveland Creative District in downtown will feature local artists and their interpretation of the color red—the installations will be in windows and storefronts with maps of each piece found at downtownloveland.org. Also, this year’s community mural created by artist Scott Freeman will be a larger image of the love stamp with sections painted by community members. The mural will be on display at Fourth Street and Lincoln Avenue.
Light Installation: Similar to Loveland Winter Wonderlights, Loveland Lights will light up Chapungu Sculpture Park in red and pink in a free lighting display every day 5-9 p.m. Feb. 1-14.
“Seeing the response we have had to Winter Wonderlights has been wonderful,” Mackin said. “We’re parlaying the success of that and transitioning Christmas lights to a Valentine’s theme.”
Valentine Group Wedding: My Big Day Events will once again host the annual wedding ceremony at 4 and 5 p.m. Feb. 14 where couples will get married or renew their vows at Chapungu Sculpture Park. Tickets are $75, and couples will receive a goodie bag with gifts from local vendors and businesses. Details are available at ValentinesDayInLoveland.com.
Virtual Valentines: Backstage Rialto, the nonprofit arm of the Rialto Theater, is sponsoring a virtual streaming event with clips from the Historic Rialto Theater that will be shown Valentine’s Day weekend with event boxes delivered to ticket buyers. The boxes will include Loveland-themed treats and activities that complement the show. Details are at backstagerialto.com.
Sweetheart Classic Race: The annual footrace will take place Feb. 13 in downtown Loveland and along River’s Edge Natural Area but with start times occurring in socially distanced waves. This year, there won’t be an in-person award ceremony. Details are at sweetheartracing.com.
Valentines Weekend Hotel Packages: Visit Loveland and its lodging partners are offering sweetheart hotel packages starting at $89. The packages include rooms with a Love Lock, strawberries and more. There also will be a Valentine Dining Guide of sit-down and to-go options for a romantic night. Details are at VisitLoveland.com/SweetheartPackages.
“The goal is to bring (the Sweetheart Festival) back in 2022 for sure,” Mackin said. “People love ‘love.’ We like to celebrate love.”