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Unmade by the Shade : Unseasonable Weather Inflicts a Long, Cold Summer on Beach-Area Businesses

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The gloom inside John Cooper’s Redondo Beach knickknack shop this summer has rivaled the gloom in the sky outside.

“I’ve been here 14 years and this is by far the most disgusting summer we’ve ever experienced,” said Cooper, 70, who runs Redondo Imports overlooking King Harbor. “I’ve not been a happy camper.”

Consistently overcast, cool weather this summer has translated into sparse beach crowds and intermittent ringing of cash registers at many sun-driven businesses up and down the coast.

There has also been far less demand than usual for Cooper’s costume jewelry, T-shirts, postcards and sunglasses. Even a bustling Labor Day weekend and a late-blooming summer, Cooper said, will not make up for the months of sluggish sales.

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Other losers in the summer that is yet to be are the tourist industries on Catalina Island and South Bay shops catering to the under-populated beach.

Tanning salon operators, however, are in a different boat, actually benefiting from the gray skies.

Harold Schumaker, his hands soiled with bicycle grease, can sympathize with Cooper’s plight. Roller skate and bike rentals at Hermosa Cyclery a block from The Strand in Hermosa Beach are down 20% from a typical summer and he has a simple explanation: “No sun.”

There have been days when Heling Wong, owner of International Ice Cream, has looked out the window of her Redondo Beach home and decided it’s too cloudy to even bother opening up her nearby shop.

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And the sun has been so elusive at Adam’s Pizza, an oceanfront restaurant in Redondo Beach, that business is down 50% from last year and even the blazing oven doesn’t always keep the place warm, said co-owner Chaim Derry. It costs $200 just to keep the pizzeria open for the day, Derry said, and some summer days have drawn in receipts as low as $30.

“Lousy. Lousy. Lousy,” Derry said of the never-ending clouds and chilly breezes. “If it was the weatherman’s responsibility, I’d hang him.”

Steve Burback of WeatherData Inc., a Wichita, Kan., firm that provides data to The Times, lapsed into weatherman’s jargon to explain the not-so Southern California weather.

“There has been a persistent low pressure trough off the West Coast at upper levels. That has triggered a thicker marine layer that took longer than usual to burn off,” he said.

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Average temperatures this summer are down about five degrees from last year, with readings along the coast hovering around 70 degrees during the hottest part of the day because of cloud cover, forecasters say. It is particularly persistent on the west-facing beaches.

And when the temperature is down, so are the number of bodies sprawled on the sand or visiting the shore.

Beach attendance from Malibu south to San Pedro is down almost 50% for June and July this year compared to last year, according to figures from the county Department of Beaches and Harbors. Last year, 13.2 million people were lured to the sea during July, the busiest beach month of the year. This year, there was plenty of room to spread your towel, with official estimates at 4.8 million.

“Last summer, it was shoulder-to-shoulder crowded along here,” said Derry, the pizzeria operator, pointing toward the International Boardwalk in King Harbor. “This summer there was a good yard between each person. Maybe more.”

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Parking spaces have been easier to find, as county parking lots report business down about 25% this summer.

Jim Craig, an RTD bus driver whose route takes him from downtown to the South Bay, said all he has to do to gauge the summer weather is look in the back of his bus. Dreary weather kept his beach-bound bus nearly empty much of the time. “We haven’t had a summer yet,” said the 17-year veteran.

Some folks, though, were pleased to see one side of their business down: The sparse crowds meant lifeguard rescues dropped countywide from 11,078 during June and July of last year to 4,326 this year. There has been no need to double up lifeguards at particularly busy stations this year and, consequently, overtime hours are way down, officials said.

Catalina Island suffered from the South Bay’s cloudiness even when the island’s weather was ideal, said Wayne Griffin, president of the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. From across the channel, Catalina may have looked cloudy even when it wasn’t, he said.

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Catalina boat operators and hotels reported many late cancellations as mainlanders called off their island getaways, he said. The registers at tourist shops were not clanking with activity either, he said.

The lackluster summer comes at an already tough time for many coastal companies. To sell swimming pools or beachfront real estate, for instance, it’s important that the sun and economy are blazing.

“The trouble started out with the (sluggish) economy,” said Bob Winship, who has run Palos Verdes Pools since 1952. “And then the drought hit--that almost turned off the phone. Then the weather. . . . I’m sure things will turn around but I’d rather forget this year.”

Real estate agents said the recession is one reason beachfront property is taking longer to sell or rent but added that the weather is also a factor. Who wants to move to the beach, they ask, when the sun isn’t out?

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Not all businesses are so solar powered.

The Sunshine Kite Co. in Redondo Beach has held its own, despite its name.

“We need wind,” said employee Lisa Joe. “As long as there’s a breeze, it doesn’t matter whether it’s sunny or overcast. A kite still flies.”

And no sun is needed at tanning salons either.

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Brian Burrescia, owner of California Bronze in Torrance, is a former surfer who loves a sunny day as much as the next Southern Californian. But he has a business to run--what he calls tanning with “no flies or sand or anybody throwing a Frisbee over you.”

“I feel torn in two,” he said. “I love going to the beach but bad weather brings us business. In a way, this cloudiness couldn’t make me happier.”

Room at the Beach: L.A. CountyJuly, 199013.2 million

July, 1991 4.8 million

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SOURCE: County Department of Beaches


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