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This Low Overhead Is No Help to Beach Retail

June is especially gloomy this year, and the gray is taking a toll on revenue from burgers, sunscreen and rentals. But experts say the worst is over.

June 25, 2003|Mike Anton | Times Staff Writer

The gloom in June falls mainly on the beach. Eventually, its misty tentacles wend their way into the pockets of people like Michael Ali.

"I've been here for 33 years, and this is the worst we've ever seen," said Ali, who owns Zack's and Zack's Too, concessions on Huntington Beach. "There's been no sunshine for seven weeks straight. Financially, for me, it's been devastating."

If this year's marine layer seems more persistent and more depressing than usual, it's not your imagination. Meteorologists, who say the worst seems to be over, blame a larger-than-normal number of low-pressure systems moving down the coast from Alaska and running up against weaker-than-normal high-pressure systems. The result: a gloomier gloom that resists burning off in the afternoon.

"It doesn't destroy anything like a long-term drought does. It's such a docile thing," said Stan Wasowski of the National Weather Service in San Diego. "People make a mountain out of this molehill."

Don't tell that to Ali. Sales of burgers, sunscreen and bike rentals at his two shops are down 70% this month from June of last year. He's had to lay off four of his 12 employees. He's given away unsold food to homeless shelters.

Other beach-related businesses are reporting drop-offs in revenue this month from last June, although more in the 10% to 15% range.

"This year's June gloom is definitely having an impact -- and not a positive one," said Bruce Baltin, senior vice president for Los Angeles-based PKF Consulting, which monitors hotel vacancy rates throughout Southern California.

Baltin said hotels that have battled post-Sept. 11 travel jitters and a weak economy are looking forward to a summer turnaround. "This weather pattern is holding that back," he said.

On the Venice Beach boardwalk, the economy and unease during the Iraq war are being blamed for dampening business. The usual summer boost hasn't shown up, merchants say.

"I heard this is the worst year," said Dulce Mendez, 28, who, with her husband, operates a CD and electronics booth off the boardwalk. "First it was the war. Then it was the weather."

On a good summer weekend, the couple can make more than $1,000. Under gray skies, though, the take has been significantly less: $300 to $400. "Normally," Mendez said, "as soon as we got to spring break, business would start picking up."

But cloudy skies haven't hurt state park beaches. Though paid day user numbers aren't yet compiled, "we are, for the most part, getting big crowds," said Don Monahan, a park official for the district including Orange County.

In Huntington Beach, June accounts for 9.5% of the city's $100-million-a-year travel and tourism industry -- not as critical as July and August, but important, said Doug Traub, president and chief executive of the city's visitors bureau.

On Tuesday the sun poked through, and forecasts called for more the rest of the week. At the beach, it was evidence that summer and hope spring eternal.

"It's a good sign," said Stephen Daniel, owner of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and president of the downtown merchants association. "I'm off for the month ... but it can be made up on one good Saturday."

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Times staff writer Hilda Munoz contributed to this report.

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