Monday, August 10, 2009

Rain drain on bottom line: Spring-like summer sorry springboard for outdoor businesses

Many businesses are facing money struggles, but for those that provide outdoor recreation, it is the gloomy weather — not the economy — that’s got them down.
It rained or was cloudy and unseasonably cold about half the days in June and July, making it difficult for places like Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury to attract large crowds, said Ron Gustafson, director of marketing and public relations for the park.
“When it’s nice out, people are taking advantage to come out and do things,” he said.
The down economy has not been a huge threat to the park, as its tickets are priced lower than other parks in the area, but he said there is no way Quassy will surpass profits from the past two record years, when the economy was solid and the weather cooperated.
The weather certainly has not cooperated this summer.
According to Geoff Fox, meteorologist at WTNH News Channel 8 in New Haven, it rained 13 days in June, totaling 11.17 inches, and six other days were “gloomy and rotten.” There were 10 days of rain in July, totaling 6.27 inches, and four more days when the sun never so much as peeked out from be¬hind the clouds.
“It’s not only how much rain we’ve had, but it’s how many days of rain we’ve had that was a real problem (for businesses),” Fox said.
This summer also has seen unseasonably low temperatures. The temperature was 2.2 degrees below average in June and 3.5 degrees below average in July.
Fox said those numbers, while they may seem insignificant, are actually large departures from the average as far as temperatures go. He pointed out that on June 9, the temperature did not surpass 61 degrees.
The bad weather is a serious problem for businesses like R&B Sportsworld in Winsted that rely on warm, sunny days to attract customers. R&B offers miniature golf, batting cages and go-carts. Owner Bob Moore said that although he has 10,000 square feet of indoor activities, his is a weather driven business. He said that when the sun is out, business is good, because his customers prefer outdoor activities to indoor ones.
“That’s part of summer time fun,” he said.
He said the economy hasn’t hit his business as hard as others because his activities are priced competitively. A round of miniature golf costs $4.50, while a go-cart ride ranges from $4.50 to $5.50. For $10 you can hit 150 baseballs at various speeds.
In early June, Tony Sharillo, director of Camp Mataucha in Watertown and Camp Oakasha in Southbury, was expecting enrollment to be down due to the economy. He said the numbers turned out better than anticipated, although they were slightly lower than in previous years.
Weather wise, the camps have had to adjust. Sharillo said inclement weather usually comes after camp hours, allowing campers to participate in special events and field trips. Counselors are trained to lead indoor group games on days when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
“If it’s thundering and the younger kids get a little scared we try to sing songs as loud as we can and try to scare away the thunder,” Sharillo said. “We try to keep the kids’ minds on what’s going on inside and not what’s going on outside.”
It’s not just children’s recreation that has been impacted. Golf courses rely on good weather to thrive. At Eastwood Country Club in Torrington, golfers have flocked to the course on days when the rain held off. Greg Miller, the club’s golf pro, said business has dropped this season, but not significantly.
“I kind of figure it is a little more weather-related than economy-related,” Miller said.
August has been a dry month so far, and, according to Fox, the extended forecast calls for nothing but average rainfall.
“Hey, at this point, average would be very good,” he said.

Originally appeared 8/10/2009 on pages 1A and 4B of the Republican-American©.

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