The hot, lazy days of summer are here. Life slows down as people relax, vacation and spend time with friends or family. Business slows down too.
Facebook posts from the beaches of Michigan or Wisconsin compete with more elaborate holiday pictures. Day trippers enjoying Chicago’s many allures remind us of the restaurants, lakeshore, parks and festivals just a few miles east. Block parties and barbecues spring up to entertain those still in town.
While summer can feel busy as we jump from activity to activity, for our local businesses it can feel positively dead. The bustling spring turns into the hot empty streets of summer almost overnight. The end of July and beginning of August are especially slow as families leave town between the end of summer school, camps and theater programs and the beginning of autumn’s back to school activities.
Now is a particularly difficult time for local businesses. Fewer people around means less revenue, putting pressure on already tight margins. This is not new. For decades, the Oak Park Bakery simply closes for three weeks this time of year, choosing to take a hiatus rather than an even bigger operational loss.
Some of our newer businesses are feeling the hot sting of summer for the first or second time. I have had a half-dozen conversations this past month with wide-eyed owners wondering where all the customers are. Those more seasoned shopkeepers weather the slow period with stiff upper lips, lower inventory and skeleton staffs.
The merchants do a good job enticing the few of us still in town to come in and look. Special activities such as park festivals, sidewalk sales, Thursday Nights Out in Downtown Oak Park and festivals attract customers and build street vitality. Restaurants with outdoor dining have an advantage, at least when the temperatures stay below ninety, beyond which people prefer the air-conditioned interiors.
If you are not going to the lake house this weekend – or today after work for that matter – stop in and get to know a local business. They are grateful for the support and have plenty of time to chat right now.