A red balloon wobbled into the dimming sky over Carson Street Friday night while in warm Telegraph Square businesses folks milled about, sipping hot drinks and enjoying an evening of open houses.
Eleven businesses in the area of the square offered free specials from 5 to 7 p.m. as part of a "Valentine Extravaganza." Many participating shops had red balloons out front.
Inside Shahram's Fine Persian Rugs. Maziar Mahjoobi and Bahar Najafi sat on intricately-detailed rugs playing a variety of flutes from around the world, several Middle Eastern drums and an ancient Turkish string instrument called a "baglama."
"Maziar is a jammin' drum player," said Debby Reichhold, part-owner of the store. Actually, Mahjoobi and Najafi are part owners too, as are Adele Malone and Alireza Arbabha, who were also there to host the event.
"There's about a dozen of us," Malone said.
Reichhold's son, Chris, 6, worked as the "bartender" offering visitors chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate and peanut butter candies wrapped in gold foil, and soda. Shahram's, which also offers jade and lapis jewelry as well as purses and cushion covers for sale, had a free raffle for a small Persian rug.
Around the corner, Mo & Sluggo's had a dinner special of a 7-ounce New York steak with sauteed onions with a cheese enchilada and fresh guacamole for $9.95. The bar and grill offered free margaritas with a dinner purchase.
At Doreen Mack's Lofty Expressions, patrons munched on pink sugar cookies and sipped mango Ceylon tea while looking at the beaded picture frames and red and violet glass candle lanterns from India.
"We just started at the Idea House and now we're here so we'll make our way around," said Natalie Pieretti, who was visiting shops with her mom, Kay.
"It's nice to see what's out here," she said.
Across Carson Street at Java Joe's, barista Galen Garretson was handling the rush alone, offering Swiss Chocolate Almond flavor coffee free with the purchase of any dessert. On the walls were relatively new landscape photos by Gerald Lee Franzen.