Business heats up in Sylvan Lake

Relief has finally arrived for people who make their living selling relief from the heat.

Sylvan lake was crowded on Saturday with nearly every available spot taken. Temperatures reached into the high 20s for much of the afternoon.

SYLVAN LAKE — Relief has finally arrived for people who make their living selling relief from the heat.

Daytime temperatures started to soar last week, and not a minute too soon, say operators of summer businesses that depend on summer heat to bring people through their doors.

Like all of Central Alberta, Sylvan Lake has come through an unusually cold spring with only a moderate rise in temperatures for the first part of the summer season.

Wild Rapids Water Slide, a favourite site for people to cool down when temperatures climb, opened later than usual this summer.

Since opening on June 27, the water slide has been closed more days than it has been open, manager Charlie Everest said on Sunday.

While there are a few diehards who will come regardless of the weather, Wild Rapids doesn’t draw enough people to make it worthwhile on days when the temperature doesn’t climb past 17, said Everest.

There were a couple of days this season when it didn’t get warmer than 11, he said.

Business picked up rapidly when daytime highs headed toward 30.

In one of their first good days of the season, Everest and a full staff of 80 people were kept hopping on Saturday, when heat and humidity drove 1,350 through the gates.

The same cannot be said for Sunday.

Even though the sun shone brightly on Sunday, it was windy and temperatures had reached only 21 by mid-afternoon, drawing only half as many people as the day before, said Everest.

Disappointing weather has become a fact for Sylvan Lake in the past five or six years, he said.

“When I first started here, five or six years ago, was the last really good summer we had,” he said.

Cynthia Leigh, president of the Sylvan Lake Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Miss Mermaid and Zoo Cruise tour boats, said 80 per cent of her cruise business is fairly weatherproof.

It takes a gale-force wind to keep the boats off the lake, and people who pre-book private cruises will show up regardless of the weather, said Leigh.

But the other 20 per cent comes from people who have come to the lake to beat the heat and are looking for something to do.

Those people just don’t come around when it’s cold or stormy, she said.

“Our little runs off the beach and things like that, I think we’ve done three of those this season. I’ve had some seasons where we do them pretty much daily.”

People have stayed away from the lake because it has been bitterly cold.

The ice didn’t go out until after the May long weekend, said Leigh.

“We’re very happy to see sunshine,” she said.

“There’s a lot of what I call the sunshine businesses, who are pretty much dependent on the weather, so they were taking quite a hit.”

Melody Ellerby, co-owner with her husband, Tim of Lakeside Go-Karts & Minigolf, said she isn’t sure whether the poor weather, the economy or a combination of both are to blame for slow business so far this summer.

The mini-golf and go-cart track open in April and generally do a little better when the weather is not too hot, said Ellerby.

Whether it’s the weather or the economy, business has down this year, she said.

“We’ve noticed, it just doesn’t seem to be as busy around Sylvan. We used to have big crowds, especially at the beginning of summer.”

On the up side, while cool weather has dampened spirits among Sylvan Lake’s seasonal businesses, a cool economy has made it easier to find staff, she said.

Lakeside was able to hire back all of its staff from last year and is now turning people away.

There’s a dramatic change for everyone from last year, when summer employers were forced to hire just about anyone who was breathing, said Leigh.

This year, people seem more genuinely interested in keeping their jobs than they did when there were more openings available, she said.

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