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For Coachella season, Indio merchants stock up on sunscreen, booze and Juuls

For Coachella season, Indio merchants stock up on sunscreen, booze and Juuls
Coachella-goer Adnan Aga, 23, of Pittsburgh, stocks up on liquor and other supplies at Sherman Liquor before attending the music festival. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Like most of the 125,000 fans who descended on the Empire Polo Club grounds in Indio last weekend, Mario Trinidad has been strategizing for weeks, if not months, in anticipation of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

The difference between Trinidad’s Coachella checklist and most festgoers wasn’t an issue of content, but quantity. Broad-brimmed straw hat? Check. Trinidad has close to 100 in plain view. Sunscreen? He stocks up by the case. And water, soda, ice and beer? They arrive at Trinidad’s doorstep by the pallet load in the back of a semi-trailer.

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Trinidad, 45, is manager at Sherman Liquor and market on Monroe Street, about a mile from the festival grounds and one of the last stops for festival-goers before they enter the grounds. The hordes of visitors typically mean a spring windfall for Trinidad and other area merchants, who welcome the onslaught of music fans.

Case in point: Early Friday afternoon on opening day of the 20th anniversary edition of Coachella, Ingy Omar, 21, of Berkeley, and Adnan Aga, 23, of Pittsburgh, pulled into Trinidad’s parking lot along with a couple more friends, for a quick refreshment run on the way into the festival. They were picking up supplies for a group of 15 that would be meeting up once they all got on site.

For Omar, it would be her inaugural Coachella experience, during which she was most looking forward to performances by Childish Gambino (aka actor-musician Donald Glover), Cleveland-by-way-of-Brooklyn rapper Kid Cudi and L.A. DJ-producer Diplo.

“Have you got a box?” Aga asked Trinidad, who was more than happy to provide one, and then another. The foursome proceeded to load them with two gallon jugs of orange juice, a 750 ml bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, seven bottles of champagne and wine, a couple six packs of Angry Orchard hard cider, two half-gallon plastic bottles of cranberry juice, two more of Sprite, dozens of red plastic beverage cups and a few bags of ice.

The total? $326 worth of beverages and supplies quickly deposited into a cooler in the back of their SUV, which hustled back onto Monroe Street to rejoin a caravan of vehicles in the home stretch of the Coachella pilgrimage.

“That was a good group,” Trinidad said with a smile after they exited. “Now, we just need about 10 more of those.”

The shelves are stocked with straw hats for customers attending Coachella.
The shelves are stocked with straw hats for customers attending Coachella. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Trinidad, who worked part-time in a liquor store while still in high school, says business in April at the store he has managed since 2001 is easily the best of the year, hitting $30,000 to $40,000, up at least 30% to 40% over the preceding months.

Around the corner from Sherman Liquor, at Red Hawk Smoke Shop, where Coachella-goers can restock on cigarettes and vape supplies, business is even better, manager Lisa Kearns said.

“It’s about triple the business of other months,” she said Friday. “It basically pays for the summer,” when temperatures soar into triple digits and locals head off in droves to milder climes.

Her estimate of her store’s income bump was more in keeping with the average for Indio businesses when Coachella is in town.

A survey by the maker of the Square mobile retail sales device, used on site by many Coachella merchants as well as neighboring restaurants, Airbnb operators and other businesses, concluded that total spending each April among Square sellers grew 450% — from $1.7 million to $8 million — from 2014 to 2017, based on hundreds of thousands of transactions with hundreds of Square sellers.

As for the overall effect of Coachella’s two weekends of music, and its country spinoff Stagecoach, which follows this year on April 26-28, a 2016 study put the economic impact of those events in the region at $403 million.

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Once you’re inside the festival, said Noah Richard, 17, “stuff costs too much.” He and his friends dropped into Winchell’s Donuts, located in the same shopping center as Sherman Liquor and Red Hawk Tobacco, for breakfast sandwiches and iced coffees Friday morning. Noah, Haley Russelo, 17, Nicole Bahmei, 17, and Tayler Hanebrink, 17, are friends since middle school who trekked from the San Fernando Valley to Coachella, unanimous in their excitement to see Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala.

Even by economizing by camping during the weekend rather than staying at a hotel or Airbnb, the foursome expressed intense concern about their cash outlay.

With the basic three-day festival pass costing around $400, Haley said, “It’s so expensive — you spend so much inside” on food, beverages and other necessities and amenities. As they headed out of the doughnut shop, they said they would make one final stop at a nearby Walmart store for something they couldn’t get at Winchell’s or Sherman Liquor: personal battery-powered fans.

For many, Coachella-adjacent businesses are a spontaneous detour; for Van Nuys resident Dusty Wood, 35, they’re part of a Coachella veteran’s master plan. This year’s festival would be his 10th consecutive trip.

“They’ve got everything at this corner,’ he said, also noting the Starbucks adjacent to Winchell’s, a Food 4 Less grocery store across the street on the opposite corner and an In-N-Out Burger. “That’s where everybody will be tonight after the festival.”

Wood said his room at a Motel 6 down the street typically commands $300 per night on Coachella weekend, but he found a discounted rate closer to $200 by using the Hotwire online service. After picking up beer and sodas at Trinidad’s market, Wood was off for ice from a machine outside Food 4 Less: “They’ve got a cheap ice machine there, and it plays Vanilla Ice when you use it. That’s cool.”

On Monday, Trinidad reported that business never picked up in a big way at Sherman Liquor over the rest of the first weekend of Coachella.

“It was different from other years,” he said. “There was not a lot of traffic. One group yesterday spent about $900. That really helps. But it was mostly like it was on Friday.”

It’s unclear whether the dip in business reflects the inaugural presence at Coachella of Amazon lockers, allowing concertgoers to order merchandise from the online merchant and have items delivered directly to lockers on the festival grounds. Many of those interviewed on their way to the Empire Polo Club weren’t aware of the addition of that option this year.

“Really? What can you order?” asked Greer Frith, 29, who had traveled more than 7,000 miles from Australia to attend her first Coachella with friend Abby Scorgie, 34, making her fourth trip to the event.

After the two had purchased a few bottles of Smirnoff Ice beverages and 6-ounce cans of Jose Cuervo Sparkling Margarita and Strawberry cocktails from Trinidad’s store, Scorgie said with a grin, “If you can get clothes delivered [to the lockers], she’ll probably start ordering those.”

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