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Hot enough for you? At groceries, theaters, it's debatable COLD COMFORT


This is a cool story for a hot day.

It begins in Eddie's supermarket on Eager Street, where Walter Talbert, dairy manager, is found in his woolly white gloves, fresh from shelving ice cream.

It's where the elderly woman seen nudging her shopping cart along hugs herself against the arctic blast blowing through the ,, freezer aisle, then mushes on to the meats.

"It's the coldest store," said Sue Patterson, dispensing a lottery ticket to a T-shirted customer glistening sweatily from the heat outside, who doesn't seem to mind at all.

Some of the help bring sweaters to work, she said. It's 68 degrees inside.

"It's cold," manager Charles Arigo agrees, though he goes around in a short-sleeved shirt, winter and summer. "But when you get in here and start moving around, it's not bad."

With a heat wave baking Baltimore, some people -- especially those without air conditioning at home -- are looking for relief. And as everybody knows, supermarkets and movie houses are the coolest places around. For, some, maybe a little too cool.

Yesterday, when the temperature hovered around 100, Bertha Walakonis brought a green sweater to the Giant at 6340 York Road. "I always bring a sweater," she said, patting the garment over her arm as she waited for her son to load their car. "Last week it was cold inside. Even the children were freezing. Today it's just nice."

As the sun wilted every living thing in sight on the frying-pan parking lot outside the store, Nancy Ebaugh, picking oranges in the fruit department, insisted the temperature was still a little on the low side, here and there. "It's too cool over by the ice cream," she said. She, too, kept a sweater in her car.

Mr. Arigo, accustomed as he is working in a cold grocery store, finds that some movie theaters are too chilly even for him. He's complained at times to the management. "What I did was went right to the guy and told him to turn it down."

Movies, he said, unlike markets like his, have no excuse for freezing the customers. "We have all this refrigeration to take the humidity out of the air."

He stands in the center of the store. "We're surrounded by them," he said, referring to all those Freon-filled motors pumping hard to keep the TV dinners, the fish 'n' chips, the cheese, broccoli and macaroni combos and other gourmet delections in their necessary state of congealed rigidity.

But not everybody's complaining. Some customers like it. They draw out their shopping time just to cool off.

"Some people say it's great in here," continues Mr. Arigo. "'You should feel it outside,' they say. 'You're lucky to be working here.' "

Some folks who find grocery stores to be too frigid might wonder if they are being subjected to some kind of secret marketing scheme. Do low temperatures make people buy more? Do benumbed shoppers shop more extravagantly? If so, what does it make them do in movies, besides shiver?

Such covert manipulative purposes are unknown to Mr. Arigo. Others in the food business are also dubious. That's putting it mildly. Giant Food's official response came from its spokesman, Mark Roeder.

"Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha," he said, then added: "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha."

John Standiford, the manager of the Charles Theatre, scratched his head, figuratively, and gave it a moment's thought. "I don't think it would be a very wise conspiracy," he said. Lowering the temperature in the auditorium would just run up the utility bill up and eat up any extra profits from chocolate bars and butter-soaked popcorn, assuming that people would respond by buying and consuming such, which he doubts.

"Most people don't buy much food after they're in their seats," he said.

Mr. Standiford keeps the temperature in the Charles at about 70 degrees and gets only a few complaints a week. Half are that it's too cold, half that it's too hot."

Such ambivalence, it seems, is the nature of the business.

Ed Dahling, manager of Sony Theaters at Harford Mall, gets about 15 to 20 temperature complaints a week, he said. "Usually more people are cold. When we get a complaint we raise the temperature. Then somebody else complains."

Giant's Mr. Roeder said all of its stores -- about 20 in the Baltimore area -- are instructed to keep the overall temperature between 74 and 76 degrees. He admits the freezers and chill cases occasionally defeat that policy.

If supermarkets are colder than other public venues owing to the exposed refrigeration, what accounts for the glacial air of movie houses? Why should they be colder than, say, restaurants, or dress shops, or malls? Absolutely goose pimply?

Thomas Kiefaber, owner of the Senator Theatre on York Road, thinks movies aren't really colder than other places; people just think they are. Why?

"Theaters were the first public buildings to be air conditioned," he said. "Since they were, they wanted to stress that. They wanted to create the impression with their customers that it was cool inside. They really pushed it."

They did this by hanging fake icicles on their marquees, by using penguins and igloos as advertising logos, putting ersatz ice and snow here and there. It left an indelible impression. For decades people expected to be cool, really cool, when they came into a theater. They still do.

Mr. Kiefaber volunteered that the overwhelming majority of complaints, 99 percent, are "gender specific." That is, from women. Why? "I'll leave that up to the biologists," he said, cautiously.

More generally, he said, "I think people have lost a little of what it means to go out in public," he said. "Often when somebody complains about the temperature in the place, what they mean is it's not the temperature it is in my apartment."

It's difficult to maintain a cool temperature in a large auditorium as it fills up with hundreds upon hundreds of warm bodies over a period of half an hour, he said. For the first persons coming in, it seems too cold. For those coming in later, it's too hot.

One night, as he was in the lobby at the Senator, Mr. Kiefaber remembered two patrons converging on him from different directions.

"The man was very agitated. He was complaining that it was too hot. The woman was making the point that it was too cold," he recalled.

"I was just delighted. Finally, I had gotten the too-hot and too-cold complaints together. I told them to work it out and let me know what the consensus was. They were loudly arguing as I walked away."

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