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Drought not a disaster for all of North Shore

Some businesses see uptick in revenues due to heat, lack of rain

The already-popular Kopps custard stand in Glendale is a "hot spot" in the recent heat waves.

The already-popular Kopps custard stand in Glendale is a "hot spot" in the recent heat waves. Photo By John O'Hara

Aug. 8, 2012

A month ago, Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency in Wisconsin in an effort to help the state's beleaguered farmers.

Several weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared parts of Wisconsin - Milwaukee included - disaster zones, ravaged by the record heat and persistent dry conditions.

Yet, as the heat and dryness have continued to take their toll, there are those around the North Shore for whom the drought has not wholly been a disaster.

Custard sales compounding

To escape the sweltering heat this summer has cooked up, customers have flocked to Kopp's Frozen Custard in Glendale, according to General Manager Bud Reinhart.

"It's a pretty good amount," Reinhart said. "Sales have increased substantially."

When the sun begins to set and the evening to cool, customers crowd Kopp's to get their dose of sweet relief.

Reinhart and his crew are ready for them.

"We just work harder."

Theatergoers flock to movies

Brian Henry, owner and operator of Fox Bay Cinema Grill in Whitefish Bay, is seeing an uptick in moviegoers.

He said that customers have come to his theater to shelter themselves from the heat.

"On the hot days its picks up," Henry said.

According to his estimates, traffic increases to somewhere between two to three times its normal volume on the most sweltering days. He takes the added business with reservation though, having seen how the weather has affected local farmers.

"I would have rather had a normal summer with good crops," Henry said.

Drought taxing on equipment

Looking to keep their homes cool and their lawns green, many North Shore residents have been running their air conditioning units more than usual and drawing more than usual amounts of water from their wells.

That added usage has caused a number of air conditioning units to fail after struggling to keep up with the heat.

"The older ones that are being used a lot or being strained are breaking down," said Joyce Hopfensperger of Mequon-based RJ Heating and Air Conditioning.

Those older cooling units are typically paired with older heating equipment, according to Hopfensperger, which has allowed their business to sell an increased number of package units, as well as new installs and numerous repairs.

"We're working six days a week on installs and seven on service," Hopfensperger said.

Similarly, people who have been pumping large volumes of water for their lawns are causing their well pumps to break down, said Arthur Liebau of Liebau-Laun Well & Pump Service in Mequon. He said last year's rainy summer took a load off well pumps, and many of the repairs he would have made last year are cropping up this summer.

"Not many people had to do any watering (in 2011)," Liebau said, "so a lot of pumps that were borderline are needing repairs."

He said he has also needed to set pumps deeper near area golf courses, which draw significant amounts of water.

Words of warning

Though business is up, Liebau said residents need to know that watering their grass - and therefore stressing their well pumps - isn't strictly necessary during drought conditions, since it will grow back when the rains return.

"People should learn that if they don't water their lawns, they will grow back just as green as before," Liebau said. "The grass is really resilient here."

Henry and Reinhart both said that they're concerned about food prices going forward, once the full effect of the drought is realized and last year's crops are expended. Reinhart said he's already seen a rise in the diary products, which he puts into his products.

Henry said that although the drought is bringing in customers now, he expects corn prices to rise toward the end of the year, which could necessitate a price increase of concession items and consequently impact business.

"(The drought) is a short-term gain," Henry said, "but a long-term problem."

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