Last week’s heat wave flooded Forest Park streets with what Schauer’s Hardware Store owner Rich Schauer called “liquid sun.”
“It took your breath away,” Schauer recalled, “It made 90 [degrees Fahrenheit] seem cool.” Despite the discomfort, Schauer wasn’t complaining. “Bad weather is good business for hardware stores.” Schauer sold thirty air conditioners to sweltering residents. Sixty-plus fans also flew off his shelves.
“It’s been very busy. We’re selling hoses for watering, bottled water, anything cool-related.” Schauer acknowledged it was tough, though, to keep cool in the store, where the temperature rose to 84 degrees Fahrenheit. But he said there is no “temperature plateau” that keeps customers from seeking solutions to the heat at the hardware store.
Connie Brown, on the other hand, said there’s a threshold at which hot no longer helps ice cream sales. The proprietor of The Brown Cow pegged it at 95.
“Our peak conditions would be a sunny Saturday in the 80s. When it gets above 95, it’s like it was 74.” The scorching heat caused an uptick in patrons ordering shakes, floats and fresh-squeezed lemonade. But there weren’t as many customers to serve.
The heat also drove up her operating costs. “We have to run the coolers nonstop and our electricity bill will be sky-high.” It became so warm in the parlor that the ice cream started to soften and Brown summoned a heating and air-conditioning contractor. It was probably one of his easier service stops, because a quick check showed that the overwhelmed air conditioning system was working just fine.
On the occasions that Brown has lost AC along with power, she’s received assistance from Nadeau’s Ice Sculptures, Inc. Jim Nadeau supplies her with ice to save her frozen inventory.
Nadeau received a different kind of call for icy assistance, on July 21, from Channel 7 News. They were requesting an ice sculpture they could display on a downtown street. Nadeau supplied the sculpture and was pleased with its longevity.
“They used it for the 4:00, 6:30, and 10:00 news,” Nadeau said, “It was still there for the 6 a.m. news the next day.” Besides, giving his business some welcome publicity, the heat wave has increased sales. “July is usually our slowest month but we’ve sold a ton of dry ice. People use it during power outages.”
Few get to labor in a building as cool as Nadeau’s, where the showroom is 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Some don’t even get to work in air-conditioning. Forest Park Pool Manager Casey Close sipped on a Freezepop, while she described the heat’s impact. “I’ve been working here twelve summers and it’s never been this hot for this long.” As a precaution, the pool held a safety break every hour, instead of the usual single afternoon break. Close also put on extra guards, so they could have more down time. During their breaks, guards have the option of swimming or coming inside. Most hit the water.
There’s definitely been an increase in pool attendance. Most days there were between 800 and 1,000 patrons during the day, with even greater numbers at night. “We’ve been hitting capacity at night,” Close said. She also observed there were more out-of-towners paying to use the pool. “The locals don’t want to deal with it.”
One local who has to deal with it is lifeguard Brittany Sullivan; she is in her second summer of service. “The heat makes it harder,” Sullivan said, “because there are more people in the water and more saves being made.” ÊThe severe conditions have also made “water-guard” the most coveted position in the rotation.
During breaks, Sullivan and staff stay hydrated with the watermelons and Gatorade that Park Director Larry Piekarz supplies.
“I guess I complained to God so much about the cold weather in June, he decided to get me back,” Piekarz quipped. “Pool attendance is up, but we haven’t had any unmanageable crowds.”
Unmanageable crowds would be welcome at many Forest Park restaurants but diners have been staying home. “The TV news is telling you to stay in, so people do,” said one restaurant manager. Eateries with outdoor seating were naturally hit the hardest.
Forest Park Liquors clerk Bob Mullin said the store is “seeing more and more traffic” since the heat wave struck. “Beer sales are up. People are buying cold ones to drink at home.”
Marty Sorice, owner of Blueberry Hill, Circle Inn and Shortstop Lounge agrees. “When it’s this hot, people don’t want to go out for a drink, especially customers who have to go home to a place without AC.” Normal heat levels help the bar business, Sorice said, but excessive heat is “generally a negative.”
The exception would be the bar that Sorice owns on Fox Lake. “That’s booming,” he said. “We’re right on the water and I don’t think we could have parked another boat.”