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Business heats up for some while others suffer

Thursday was Day Five of the current heat wave and put the 28th day at or above 90 degrees this year in the books.
By Sonja Ryst
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 9, 2010

So much talk about the weather -- can you believe how hot it is? -- and absolutely nothing to do about it. Nothing, that is, unless you happen to sell air conditioners or repair overheated cars or offer water by the case. If so, prepare to do business.

"This is likely going to be, for air conditioners, probably their best week in years," said Evan Gold, senior vice president of client services at Planalytics, which advises retailers on managing the effects of weather on their businesses.

By the end of this week, he estimates, 159 percent more air conditioners will sell in the Baltimore-Washington area than in the same period a year ago. Swimwear sales, he says, will be up 36 percent, sandals, 46 percent, and soft drinks, 16 percent.

Mother Nature helped make those figures somewhat dramatic: Last year, the Northeast experienced its third-coldest July in 115 years, Gold said, and air-conditioner sales were not so brisk.

The company alerted Washington area businesses 11 months ago that this summer would be different -- warmer, that is -- and many prepared.

The staff at a Lowe's in Chantilly got into position early, moving air conditioners and ceiling fans closer to the front door, where scorched customers could stumble in and pick them right up.

"We moved them last week because of the heat wave," said sales manager Josh Wilner. "This is a summer ritual."

At the Giant Food supermarket at Tivoli Square in Northwest Washington, manager Jack Eaton is keeping a barrel of ice and water out for the staff members who work outside. "The cashiers are getting hot, and the customers look needy," Eaton said. Sometimes he'll hand a bottle to a customer who passes by. He said business had been quiet in the early afternoons this week, although normally it's steady all day.

When customers show up, many want drinks. Eaton said he had sold about 50 percent more cases of water this week than normal in summer.

At 7-Eleven, the Big Gulps have turned into one long guzzle. Slurpee, Big Gulp and iced coffee sales in the area are up about 40 percent, compared with this time last year.

"People are thirsty," said Tom Brennan, sales and merchandising director in 7-Eleven's Chesapeake Division.

District resident Billy Greene doesn't get her son Cypress a Slurpee very often, but she made an exception Thursday at the 7-Eleven at 1400 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The heat made her do it. "This is one of his favorites," she said.

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