Small businesses stay afloat in heat wave

(Evie Carpenter/DD)
Downtown businesses are coming up with new ways to beat the heat and draw in customers, particularly in the absence of ASU students who leave Phoenix for their home states during the summer. (Evie Carpenter/DD)

This summer, Phoenix broke the all-time temperature record for June 29 with a blistering 119 degrees. Temperatures between July and August averaged a high of between 104 degrees and 106 degrees, making Phoenix a far less walkable, some might even say livable, place to be.

Pair that with the exodus of ASU students who leave downtown Phoenix for their home cities and states during the summer, and businesses can expect a seasonal drop in revenue.

But despite the annual challenge of the heat wave, many downtown businesses are pulling through August and into the fall.

“I think more and more people are staying over the summer and businesses are staying open,” said Kimber Lanning, owner of Stinkweeds record store and Executive Director of Local First Arizona, an organization that helps to strengthen and develop Phoenix business communities.

Lanning compared the challenges of intense heat to cities that deal with months of heavy snowfall.

“I could see adjusting hours … (but) I just don’t hear about people closing because of the heat,” said Lanning.

Adrian Fontes, owner of Bodega 420, echoed Lanning’s sentiment, saying “summer in Phoenix is like winter in Milwaukee. … If you think you’re going to have a consistent revenue stream over the summer, then you’re going to have a bad time.”

Fontes does not see the extreme heat as a serious detriment to downtown development, citing both familiarity with the climate and locality of businesses.

“We’re a go-to shop for people who live in walking or biking distance,” Fontes said, “and we have a lot of people that live here who won’t complain about the weather until it hits 118.”

Aaron Hopkins-Johnson, owner of Lawn Gnome Publishing, further described business resilience during times with less foot-traffic.

“This 10-block community is learning how to thrive in a smaller environment,” Hopkins-Johnson said. “We’re still open every day.”

Hopkins-Johnson expressed excitement for the ASU law school moving downtown, anticipating greater influxes of students in the non-summer months and a boost to revenue that will help tide over businesses in the summer months.

Lawn Gnome has events occurring most nights during the busy season, such as an Open Mic Night on Mondays and Story Telling on Wednesdays.

“For me, doing the events during the summer didn’t make much sense,” Johnson said. “The students being here in the fall is a drastic change … the students bring back the events.”

Business owners such as Johnson are sometimes forced to make changes to hours, events and more to stay afloat. Without the proper preparation, new businesses could fall into the red financially.

8th Day Coffee, which opened in September last year, has had to close its doors temporarily after profit losses during its first summer in business and is in the process of creating new hours of operation and community events for the future.

Both Lanning and Hopkins-Johnson cited unique and creative business strategies that have allowed them and others to do well despite the heat. Local First Arizona organizes an event called “Independents Week” during the first week in July. This year, 307 businesses participated in coupon programs, drawing thousands of customers out of their homes and into the city.

This year, Hopkins-Johnson, along with other business owners in his area, put together their annual “Bill Murray Crash Pad Party.” For this event, event planners say Bill Murray is coming to the area, and organizations like the humor website pick up the story and spread it. Participants dress up like Bill Murray, enjoy karaoke and hip-hop performances and visit the various stores near the event.

Another strategy for maintaining strong business during lulls is fiscal discipline. John Sagasta, who owns both Melt and Jobot Coffee and Dining, said he tightens his budget when the heat rises.

“If there’s a month where you don’t make a bunch of money, you don’t spend as much,” Sagasta said. “We just know it’s not going to be busy.”

Despite the weather, Phoenix businesses maintain a resiliency that continues to allow for growth, and members of the downtown community remain confident.

“Yeah, a lot less people walk around,” Johnson said, “(but) I’m going to keep rolling the way I’m rolling.”

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