Outdoor business wilts as summer heat swells


The seats that line the outdoor cafes of the Inner Harbor's restaurants were conspicuously empty yesterday as the sun beat down on the pavement and the humidity caused people to sweat even under shade trees.

Karen Thrift and Jeanne Sheldon were contrarians. At midday, they chose to enjoy their cocktails on the patio outside the Taverna Athena rather than sit inside in the air conditioning.

"I used to live in Baltimore, but now I live in Cincinnati. I don't have the beautiful harbor to look [at] over there, and I miss it," said Ms. Thrift. "So this heat doesn't bother me at all."

But most people, not feeling such nostalgia, were in no mood to endure the high temperatures and humidity.

As a result, businesses that usually profit in the summertime from outside patronage were experiencing a sales slump.

Air-conditioned businesses, such as shopping malls, however, reported heavy customer traffic.

At Harbor Boating Inc.'s paddle boat booth on the Inner Harbor, the manager, Matthew Woolston, said that business had been pretty slow for several days with the 100-degree temperatures.

Some people ventured out onto the water yesterday on the boats, life jackets snugly wrapped over their shoulders and the sweat making their hair stick to their heads.

"I guess they think it will be cooler out on the water," Mr. Woolston offered.

"They don't realize they have to pedal once they get out there -- and that's going to be pretty grueling in this heat."

The National Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport forecast no relief until Thursday, when the highs will likely fall back into the 80s.

David Ellis, one of the operators of the water taxi that runs to various locations around the harbor, said people were still plunking down $3.25 for a ride despite the heat.

"They all think there is a breeze out in the water, but they are all disappointed when they get out there," Mr. Ellis mused.

Several restaurants said that customers are ordering lighter fare, such as fruit salads and sandwiches.

"Not many burgers are being ordered," said Gil White of the new Nickel City Grill at the harbor. The restaurant's outside seating area was virtually deserted.

Jim Hulbert, manager of Chili's at Belvedere Square, said that the restaurant has been busier than normal as patrons sought chilly relief.

"People don't want to deal with the heat at home and in the kitchen, so it's easier to come to a nice air-conditioned place and let us worry," Mr. Hulbert said.

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