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Companies Hit Highs, Lows in Heat

As hot weather persists, business soars at indoor malls, water parks and theaters but cools at hair weaving salons and tanning beds.

July 25, 2006|Cynthia H. Cho and Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writers

Tips for surviving one of the worst heat waves on record: Pour a frosty drink. Or see a flick inside a frigid movie theater. But forget about getting that clunky air conditioner fixed right away.

As the temperatures continued to soar Monday, so did Southern California's interminable search for everything cool. Outdoor workers started before dawn so they could cut out early. Others toiled into evening as customers scrambled for electric fans, ice cream and anything to keep the heat away.

At Union Ice Co. in Los Angeles, where they produce 450 tons of ice a day, the machines are running nonstop. And even that's not enough.

"We have not shut off since June 30 and I don't know when we will," said President Brett Willberg, who expects a record-setting profit this year for the business that's been around since 1882.

"Everything we're making, we're bagging. Everything we're bagging, we're selling. We can probably sell 50% more than we do now," he said. "I've talked to people who have been in the business for 30 years and they said they've never seen a summer like this. It's unrelenting."

For businesses, the weather meant profits and losses -- and how.

Gardena-based Southern Comfort Air is turning away 15 to 20 customers a day who are seeking repairs, replacements and installations.

Some unlikely businesses were affected, including Parisian Hairs & Wigs Inc. on South Crenshaw Boulevard. Business on Monday was down 40% on an already slow day of the week. The weave business is taking a hit because nobody wants more hair when it's hot and sticky outside.

"I feel sorry for all the women who have to wear wigs on a day like today," co-owner Hanna Suh said in her shop, which was warm despite a big fan blasting air in and the AC cranked all the way up. "It will affect us a lot if this keeps up, but we rely on the fact that women just can't go walking around bald."

People are tending to skip anything outdoors with no breeze, but places with free air conditioning reported busy business. Movies and malls, for example, are popular among the heat avoiders.

An AMC Entertainment Inc. spokesperson acknowledged a "slight uptick" in attendance at Los Angeles-area theaters. Big box-office receipts and packed auditoriums suggest that business is strong.

When it comes to shopping malls, indoor centers are faring better than outdoor ones.

"There is definitely some action here that is all about the heat," said Laurel Crary, manager of the Westside Pavilion shopping center. "Every time it gets really, really hot you see people migrate to movies and indoor shopping. It's good for us because window shopping can turn into serious shopping."

At the Grove, though, owner Rick Caruso reported volume down. "If people didn't have to get outside, they didn't," he said.

People staying indoors weren't always well off, either, with power outages affecting neighborhoods throughout Southern California. One outage knocked down MySpace, one of the Internet's most popular destinations with 52 million U.S. visitors last month.

Based in Beverly Hills, the News Corp. Web business said its site was rendered largely inaccessible for six hours overnight Saturday, then again for 12 hours starting Sunday night, after its servers lost power and backup generators failed. Instead of their user profile pages, MySpace visitors were offered a PacMan game to play while the company struggled to get the site running again. A company spokeswoman would not estimate how much ad revenue MySpace lost during the down time.

And tanning salons? People don't want to catch rays indoors.

"It's been really slow," said Meghan Pearson, who works at Bare Tan in Corona del Mar. "It's just like tanning in the real sun. It's hot outside, so people probably don't want to get out in the heat and then tan inside the bed."

One exception to the outdoors rule is water: the beach, the pool, the water park.

"It's been phenomenal," said Michele Wischmeyer, spokeswoman for Knott's Soak City in Buena Park. "We have had a fantastic summer from the beginning of the season. Even before this record-breaking heat, we had record-breaking days."

The park's best shot at beating the heat is a new ride, Pacific Spin, which sends rafters down a 132-foot-long tunnel, then drops them 75 feet into a six-story funnel.

Its sister park, Knott's Berry Farm, is seeing attendance peak in the morning and evening. To spur business, admission is reduced after 4 p.m. At the Orange County Fair, half-price "beat the heat" prices are being offered from noon to 4 p.m.

The less adventurous are heading to the store, where they're snatching up amenities to make life cooler.

At the Lowe's store in Burbank, workers had restocked summer goods before the weekend in preparation for more record-breaking temperatures.

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