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Some businesses aided by Northeast drought

Ball parks among its beneficiaries by MARK PRATT THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | September 1, 2022 at 1:49 a.m.
A sign announces a water use ban in Scituate, Mass., in early August. Drought conditions in the northeastern United States this summer have been good for business at amusement parks and for minor league baseball teams, construction contractors and other businesses. (AP)

There is a silver lining to the drought affecting the Northeast that has frustrated farmers, dried up rivers and reservoirs, and brought water restrictions and brush fires to the region.

The arid conditions have benefited amusement parks, minor league baseball teams, construction contractors and other businesses that need warm, dry weather to attract paying customers and get jobs completed on time.

While several factors have affected the bottom line this summer -- including inflation, staffing shortages and supply chain issues -- some businesses say, "Yes, things are generally going well, in part because of the weather."

"Sunny days at the ballpark are the best days," said Geoff Iacuessa, president and general manager of the Portland Sea Dogs minor league baseball team in Maine, which is seeing fewer rain outs and greater attendance rates.

Large tracts of the Northeast from Pennsylvania to Maine are experiencing drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

A swath of the region from southern New Hampshire, across much of eastern Massachusetts and nearly all of Rhode Island, and into eastern Connecticut is suffering from extreme drought conditions, the fourth worst out of five drought stages.

In some areas, rainfall during the past 90 days is about 6 inches less than normal, according to the Drought Monitor.

The Sea Dogs, the Maine-based Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, have averaged more than 5,700 fans per game, and while season-to-season attendance comparisons are imprecise, that's about 100 more per game than in the pre-pandemic years of 2018 and 2019, Iacuessa said.

The 2020 season was canceled because of covid-19, and home field capacity was limited at the start of last season. Another advantage of hot weather: beer, water and ice cream sales soar.

At Groundskeeper Inc., an Ashland, Mass., commercial landscape design company, the dry weather has allowed its crew to get a lot more work done, especially when it comes to installing hardscapes like patios, walkways and retaining walls, said company President Brian Churchill.

Working with concrete, mortar and brick adhesives is nearly impossible during a steady rain, Churchill said.

"I would say it has been a very productive year," said Churchill, a past president of the Massachusetts Association of Landscape Professionals. "No rain days, no delays in the schedule. We're able to work five days a week and get a lot of work done."

And that benefits everyone.

"When you meet schedule and the developers can meet closing dates, they've got happy clients; they get the money in the bank; we get money in the bank, and that means everyone's happy," he said.

There is a downside for landscapers during the drought, however, said Miriam Hellweg, director of maintenance at a Blade of Grass LLC, a Sudbury, Mass., landscape design company.

"The drought is stressful for plants, so first we have more plants dying," Hellweg said. "The other piece is, with a drought, the plants aren't growing as much, so we're not doing as much mowing."

The weather and an increase in self-imposed capacity restrictions to prevent overcrowding have helped pull more people to Santa's Village, a Christmas-themed amusement park in Jefferson, N.H., said Jim Miller, a spokesperson for the 15-acre family-owned facility.

"Everybody likes the perfect weather, and we've been at capacity on most days," Miller said.

The park, founded in 1953, only sells advance tickets online, so when families are checking the weather forecast several days out before booking their visit, all they have seen this summer is blue skies, he said.

The drought has been a mixed bag for Tom Bukowski, owner of Safari Golf, a miniature golf course in Berlin, Conn. Yes, dry weather is good for business, but brutal heat can be a detriment.

Connecticut had a six-day stretch in July when temperatures were 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and another eight-day stretch in early August with 90-degree-plus temperatures.

"If it gets too hot, not many people play, but it's still better than rain, because when it rains, no one comes out," Bukowski said.

Business this year has been tempered by inflation, he said. In the past, the whole family would play, but Bukowski said he's noticed this year that parents are paying for their kids but sitting out themselves to save a little.

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