Business & Economy

Heat waves can mean higher bills and lower demand for some businesses

German Orellana, owner of Lincoln Cleaners in Venice.
German Orellana, owner of Lincoln Cleaners in Venice.
Brian Watt

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Southern California is riding another heat wave, which means fans and air conditioning units are back in action after a little rest during cooler temperatures.  

In office buildings, supermarkets and other businesses, cooling towers are working harder to keep people and equipment from overheating. 

In the case of dry cleaner German Orellana, the hottest days of summer are the least profitable due to higher electricity costs and lower demand for the service.

"I have to have the coolers up and the exhaust fan running all the time," said Orellana, the owner of Lincoln Cleaners in Venice.  The shop is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  (Even about a mile from the beach, the car thermometer hovered around 90 degrees Tuesday at noon.) 

The exhaust fan - in the ceiling - is effective at sucking the air through the shop, providing some relief to workers who use hot steam to iron shirts to wrinkle-free perfection. Orellana says he pays $200 more per month in electricity during the summer compared to the winter, but unfortunately, his revenues don't keep up.  

"In the summertime, cleaners lose more money than the wintertime," Orellanna explained. "In the summer, people are just wearing shorts.  Wintertime, we get more sweaters and jackets so we keep more money."

Orellana accepts it as part of his business cycle, and business developer Warren Cooley says that's what a lot of small business owners have to do.  Cooley is Managing  Director of the Pacoima Entrepreneur Center, a project of the Valley Economic Development Center.  

"Your utility bills are going to go up, and you have some pretty slow days when it's hot outside from a revenue standpoint," says Cooley, who once owned a group of retail stores. "You have a lot of people who stay away: when you have to go out of an air-conditioned building to get to a place, even if the place you're going may be cool, it's the drive from A to B." 

Cooley understands why it's necessary for businesses to spend extra money to keep equipment cool.  The Valley Economic Development Center helps businesses get loans, and he's seen some apply for loans to replace equipment that has broken down. 

"For small business, if equipment breaks down, you need to replace it quickly," he says. "It's not like you can just turn it off and put it on the back burner for a few weeks."