Record Breaking Heat Wave Temporarily Slows Shopping in Southern California

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shopping slowed down, but not for long, when a broiling heatwave broke records and pushed temperatures into the triple digits in Los Angeles County the week of Sept. 27.

Boutique co-owner Gila Leibovitch said mall traffic at Los Angeles’ Beverly Center was busy with people beating the scorching temperatures, but registers were not ringing during the worst part of the heatwave.

“No one feels like shopping when it’s this hot,” Leibovitch said. “I think it would be busier if it was cooling off. Then consumers would feel the season changing, which usually brings the urge to shop.”

Leibovitch co-owns Premier Men in Beverly Center as well as boutiques Vault Men, Vault Women and Melrose Place in Laguna Beach, Calif. She said the shopping scene was not much different from an urban mall during the heatwave. “Everyone wants to head down to the beach, so the city seemed just as busy as an air conditioned mall,” she said. “But they are staying on the beach. They don’t feel like trying on clothes and carrying the bags,” she said.

Ilan Trojanowski, manager and buyer for high-profile men fashion and suiting boutique Traffic, also in the BeverlyCenter, said the scorching heat put a stop to shopping, but not for long. “When heat wave started, people did not leave their home or offices. It shocked people for a few days,” Trojanowski said.The surprise wore off after a few days, and they started shopping again he said. He estimated that business dipped more than 10 percent during the early parts of the heatwave.Indoors retail center South Coast Plaza, located in CostaMesa, Calif., and open-air specialty centers The Camp and The Lab also based in Costa Mesa, claimed retail traffic climbed during the heatwave weekend. Crowds and sales were also good at Glendale Galleria mall, based in Glendale, Calif., according to Linda Frost, the assistant general manager, but traffic was not that much different than a day with more comfortable temperatures.

“It seemed like people were staying longer at food places and not moving,” Frost said. “Maybe they drank an extra glass of tea. They said ’I’m not going out of the air conditioning.’”Perhaps the biggest headache for retailers working in a September heatwave is to be selling a shop filled with fall merchandise when it feels like summer. Fred Levine of Agoura Hills, Calif.–based M.Fredric chain said he held fall merchandise in his warehouse when he read the forecast for the heatwave.

With the heavier fall merchandise in warehouses, he devoted his store’s real estate to lightweight fashions, but in fall colors such as plum and navy. The M.Fredric stores were selling light fashions with a fall look during the cool weather of September. “It is what people are wearing for a transitional time between summer and fall,” he said.

There is a proverbial silver lining for any variation of extreme weather said Mercedes Gonzalez, the director of New York–based buying office and consultants Global Purchasing Companies. She was shopping in L.A. on Sept. 28. “Retailers despair during extreme weather,” she said. “Eventually the sun is going to come up, or the weather is going to cool down, and consumers who have been suffering from cabin fever are going to come out in droves. It is going to balance out.”—Andrew Asch