Kiss off or sniff off?

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Romance in recession. It’s like love in a cold economic climate. Every little helps when shopping around for Valentine’s gifts. For romance can often mean rip off.

We’re standing at the heart of what’s become a bastion of bargain hunters – Blackpool town centre – in an area where you struggle to pay more than £1 for any one product.

Visit Bank Hey Street and immediate surrounds and £ signs abound. You can bust them, stretch them, visit the land of the pound, indeed the world of the pound.

The long established B&M Bargains still holds thrall nearby but isn’t quite as proscriptive on its pound per item pricing policy.

So, in for a penny, in for a pound? Not quite. For 99p Stores is here too, at 63 Bank Hey Street, in the shadow of the Tower and, be warned, if you hesitate in your quest you may be lost ... to the Tower Dungeon character actors cruising for fresh prey.

“Lost, dearie?” a ghoulish character asks.

“No, I’m looking for the 99p shop.” “Every penny counts, dearie.” My sentiments exactly.

For the 99p Shop chain, which aims to have 600 branches on the high street over the next 10 years, is out to make a romantic killing with its latest top selling line in perfumes.

Can you really find love for £1 and still have change to spend a penny?

Yes, according to Graham Barnes who promotes the range and Blackpool is just the base to test the theory of whether this is “scents” or “nonsense”.

The chain’s new range of super cheap colognes has won acclaim in blind sniffings - one product having sold out within days of hitting the shelves.

It’s out to prove that romance need not be a rip off for the big lurve day of the year.

The women’s mags have waxed lyrical over the likes of Midnight Love which looks a bit like Davidoff Cool Water for Women (around £30 if you bag a bargain online) but according to one of our shoppers smells like a copy of Angel ... where you’re talking even more serious money.

I test that claim for myself at a nearby branch of The Perfume Shop – specialist in more upmarket brands and designer perfumes.

Sorry, Midnight Love but I’m loving Angel’s instead. It has more oomph to the olfactory factor. For my money. Not that I’m buying any. I’ve come armed for my sniff-off challenge with two of my own favourite colognes, Oui by Lancome, always an embarrassment to admit (“you smell nice, what is it?” “Oui. That’s o-u-i.”) And Bulgari’s Voile de Jasmin. Both fairly pricy.

At The Perfume Shop, even with the benefit of a blind sniffing, shoppers stick with their tried and tested designer name favourites. “Nondescript,” says one 20 year old of Midnight Love. She’s just bagged a bottle of Lady Million. A young Polish dad buying a spectacular gift set for his other half – having been in the dog house since forgetting her last Valentine’s day – takes one sniff of my Midnight Love and backs away. “Try the Oui?” He flees.

Staff at the specialist scent outlet at the Houndshill Centre are too diplomatic to be drawn to comment. I retreat to check out the artificial rose prices at a nearby shop – £2. At the 99p shop they’re – well, the clue’s in the name. One big seller is a 2ft high Valentine’s card although Graham admits: “If I bought that for my wife she’d be very suspicious indeed.” It’s a nice little overstated number for teenagers in love.

Lovebirds Carol and Michael Maher, of Leeds, mark their 10th wedding anniversary next month. It’s a milestone. Partly because Michael’s already bought the anniversary gift for his missus. Carol admits she always buys her own Valentine. “A card with a nice verse, that’s me,” she says picking one out. She rates Midnight Love over my proffered Oui in the sniff off. “It’s not as bland. I like my scents strong. They last longer.”

Michael, a chef, also bags a box of 10 bake your own “loving cup cakes”. “One for each year of married life,” he muses.

Emma Kirby, from Blackpool, rates the 99p shop’s Flowers of Love (said to have given a posh £70 perfume the kiss off in a blind sniff off). She swoops on a musical rose.

“I saw these for £19.99 in another shop, that’s £19 more. Valentine’s is a rip off but I’m buying for my four year old daughter Tiffany.”

Barbara Carter, of Thornton, is out shopping with her daughter Kay Andrew, of Over Wyre, who buys a card for her husband.

Barbara looks mutinous. She hasn’t bought a a Valentine gift for nine years. Why? Because her husband stopped returning the compliment 10 years ago.

“If he got me one now I’d be absolutely gobsmacked,” Barbara admits. “But I’d be over the moon.”

Which just goes to show it’s never too late for those in love.