How excessive Texas heat is hurting Fort Worth businesses

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The patio at HG Sply Co. is empty during lunch hour on Thursday, July 21, 2022, at HG Sply Co. in Fort Worth. The restaurant has completely closed the patios.

yyossifor@star-telegram.com

This record-breaking heat isn’t just making life miserable for Texans. It’s also bad for business.

Weeks of sweltering, triple-digit temperatures have forced many people to stay home as much as possible, stick close to air conditioning or limit social outings until dark. At restaurants and bars across Fort Worth — a city where outdoor seating is part of the culture — expansive patios and rooftop terraces are mostly empty, even if they’re shaded.

And customers are avoiding outdoor shopping and recreation under the sweltering sun.

While it’s difficult to quantify, this summer’s relentless heat is clearly taking a toll on many businesses that are already stressed by rising prices, labor shortages and supply chain woes.

“The patio can seat about 85 people, but there haven’t been a lot of people out there just because of the heat,” said Brittany Roberts, a unit accountant at Maria’s Mexican Kitchen on South University Drive near Trinity River.

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The patio remains empty during lunch hour as temperatures rise above 100 degrees Thursday, July 21, 2022, at Maria’s Mexican Kitchen in Fort Worth. Yffy Yossifor yyossifor@star-telegram.com

“It’s been a little bit slower since it’s gotten really hot. Pretty much nobody’s sitting outside. We’re doing pretty much only inside seating because of that,” she said.

The margarita hangout known for its ribeye tampiqueña and mole enchiladas instead relies on the business of 150 to 200 guests it can seat indoors. But who wants to sit outside when it’s 105 degrees?

Maria’s is not the only restaurant taking a hit.

“Our foot traffic for the patio is nonexistent because of the heat,” said Craig Hart, assistant manager of The Fitzgerald, a seafood restaurant on Camp Bowie Boulevard. “We’ve been slow in general during the month of July compared to what we’re used to, one because of the heat and two because people are on vacation.”

‘It’s just been way way too hot’

For HG Sply Co., located next to the Trinity River, patios are completely closed to avoid unnecessarily staffing outdoor bartenders and waitstaff for empty seats.

“We’re 60% patio right now, but we haven’t even opened the patio with the bartenders and all that for the last four days,” Bethany Christensen, HG Sply Co. service manager, said last week. “For inside dining, the dining room is simple. We’ve had a wait every single day for inside dining, but it’s definitely impacted outside dining.”

With more than half of the restaurant’s seating outside, the rooftop patio known for American meals, craft cocktails and beer has pivoted towards take-out.

“The popularity is still there,” Christensen said. “There’s been tons and tons of to-go traffic. A lot more than normal.”

For other restaurants, patio seating has decreased but not ceased altogether. Paloma Suerte, a Tex-Mex patio bar in Mule Alley at the Stockyards, has still seen some traffic after the sun begins to set and temperatures cool down.

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People dine on the patio as temperatures rise above 100 degrees Thursday, July 21, 2022, at Press Cafe in Fort Worth. Yffy Yossifor yyossifor@star-telegram.com

“We’ve seen a drastic change in our business levels in patio seating, but most of the patio people have been moving inside,” said Teresa Clark, an assistant general manager. “If they’re regulars and they like to usually sit on the patio, they’ve been still coming in but choosing to sit inside instead of on the patio. It’s just been way way too hot to sit out there. We still get a little bit of traffic out there at night but not that much.”

‘The heat sucks it out of them’

Outdoor recreation companies like Fun on the Run Paintball Park have also seen a decline in visitors.

Foot traffic at the paintball park near Lake Worth has been down 20% to 50% on weekends this month, according to the company.

While summer is usually a slower season, this year there are fewer players. And those who come are staying for a shorter amount of time, said David Creamer, the chief operating officer at Fun on the Run.

“Some people try to come out, but the heat sucks it out of them,” Creamer said. “Usually people stay about three to four hours, but now they’re staying two to three.”

Local plant nurseries and garden centers have also seen less foot traffic and changes in shopping patterns.

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Tammy Swofford shops for plants as temperatures rise above 100 degrees Thursday, July 21, 2022, at Calloway’s Nursery in Fort Worth. Yffy Yossifor yyossifor@star-telegram.com

“The biggest change we’ve seen is more traffic during the slightly cooler morning hours right when we open at 9 am rather than later in the day when temperatures reach their peak,” said Jennifer Hatalski, a garden expert at Calloway’s Nursery on South Hulen Street.

Many people shop for plants in the spring, so it’s no surprise that business is slower in July. But the heat is still affecting the business, where employees have been tasked with watering plants at least twice a day.

“We’re also seeing high demand for watering tools including watering wands and spray nozzles, which are essential to maintaining a healthy lawn and garden while minimizing water usage,” Hatalski said.

‘Musicians have been moved inside’

High temperatures aren’t always bad for business. Indoor shopping malls and movie theaters have been packed across the metroplex this summer, for example.

In Sundance Square, many of the restaurants, stores and entertainment venues in the plaza are indoors — and air-conditioned.

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People grab food and shop during lunch hour as temperatures rise above 100 degrees Thursday, July 21, 2022, at WestBend shopping mall in Fort Worth. Yffy Yossifor yyossifor@star-telegram.com

“To my knowledge, it hasn’t really impacted things much,” said Bryan Eppstein, a spokesperson for Sundance Square management. “People do have a desire to be inside where it’s air-conditioned. The impact on indoor dining activities is certainly marginal. People look for entertainment where they can be inside, so it’s probably been a plus with the movie theaters and music venues like the Scat Jazz Lounge.”

Sundance Square has not had to cancel weekend events in the heart of downtown but has made accommodations to continue events inside. Similar to other businesses, there has been increased foot traffic during the later hours of the evening.

“Musicians have been moved inside to the air-conditioned pavilion because of the summer heat,” Eppstein said. “Other than that there’s been pretty normal activity in Sundance Square. A lot of activity in terms of retail and restaurants occurs later in the evening when it cools down somewhat.”

Jenny Rudolph covers North Texas business, industry and economic development at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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