While there’s no perfect answer to staying fiscally sound when the summer heat blankets Tucson, various businesses in the service industry have adapted to the triple-digit temperatures.
Whether it’s a business baking sweets or offering a soft pillow to an out-of-towner, relishing in what the Old Pueblo can offer appears to be the cornerstone to success.
What sets the Downtown Clifton hotel apart from the competition is it offers a quiet getaway that’s walking distance from Tucson’s nightlife, said Erin Cox, guest and community relations manager at the local lodge. Moreover, their staff, some of whom live in the neighborhood, offer a welcoming, family feel, she said.
“So we have a lot of return guests, who are very loyal to us,” Cox said.
The 10-room boutique hotel, located at 485 S. Stone Ave., is nestled between two historic neighborhoods: Amory Park and Barrio Viejo. That kind of amenity attracts guests ranging among dog-lovers to artisans, Cox said.
Although the summer is a precarious time financially, the lull gives staff an opportunity to deep clean the rooms, make improvements and tighten up the operation for peak season, she said.
Tucson’s hottest months are always unpredictable for the service industry, she said, so similar to most businesses they play it safe when it comes to finances.
“I think that’s just what it is, being smart and preparing for the summer time,” Cox said.
The Clifton’s slow season lasts from June through August, corresponding with the school year.
During the busy season, the Clifton hosts business people, concert goers from Phoenix and vacationers from Los Angeles who are drawn to downtown. They also cater to staycation Tucsonans who want to take in a show, or enjoy an evening out. Come summer, their guests tend to be people happening by whilst driving cross-country, staying for a night or two.
A stay at the Clifton ranges from $119 to $129, depending on the day of the week. During the summer they knock $10 off the price. No matter the season, guests can take advantage of the Keyholder’s Club, where showing off their retro room keys will garner a discount at more than two dozen local businesses.
Following four years of success, the downtown getaway prompted its current owner, Moniquea Lane, to expand. In September, the hotel will bring its total capacity to 30 suites, and add a bar and restaurant on an adjacent plot.
With a sincere quip, Cox said starting a business is similar to the realities of parenting.
“When you have a business, you can have these ideas of how you want it to be, but it’s more like having a baby,” Cox said. “It grows into its own thing and all you’re trying to do is keep it alive.”
Judie Georgacas, co-owner of Pastiche Modern Eatery, said after a few years of battling the summer slowdown, they know what to expect.
Georgacas and her husband, Costas, took over the local restaurant two years ago and have since worked diligently to preserve its character. While they maintain the menu items they grew to love as customers, she said, they’ve got local foodies in mind when introducing something fresh.
But Pastiche is constantly looking for new ways to bring people out during the summer slump, Georgacas said.
“The summer months are frightful, because so many of our customers are people who live elsewhere during the hot months,” she said.
Pastiche is hit hardest from June through August and will trim back hours offered to its 34 employees.
In order to fill their seats, this summer they’ll offer an extended happy hour during the weekdays. Each week they offer discounts on whiskey drinks and bottles of wine. They’re also adding a special on Thursdays, where all tequila cocktails are half price. And the local eatery will kick off an Arizona wine week this year, but the specific dates are tentative.
Georgacas said they will offer a dinner special each week, which will canvas their whole menu in order to appetize everyone.
Even though the slow season is worrisome, Georgacas said their regular customers keep them afloat, constantly talking up what Pastiche has to offer.
The week after the University of Arizona lets out for the summer, the local service and tourism industry starts to feel the burn, said Dan Gibson, director of communications at Visit Tucson. At the same time, the weather heats up and seasonal visitors return home, which creates the perfect storm for proprietors, he said.
The easiest fix for local hotels is to drop the daily rate, include a meal or drink special or offer an entertainment perk, Gibson said. Plus, local getaways start to promote family oriented staycations when out-of-town guests are scarce.
Regardless of Tucson’s fiery summer skies, tourism is surging. In 2017 alone there was $2.3 billion of direct tourism spending in Pima County. Come June, Visit Tucson will release its 10-Year Metro Tucson Tourism Master Plan, which aims to identify how to boost the hospitality industry and keep the Old Pueblo on the map.
What’s exciting to see is Tucson isn’t trying to be the next Portland, Gibson said, adding the growth of Agave Heritage Festival provides a perfect example. Thus far, the local events and hip locales have avoided looking homogenized.
“And Tucson is always at its best when it’s focusing on what’s distinctive about Tucson,” Gibson said.
One of the keys to beating the heat, he added, is simply shifting your schedule and to stop apologizing for the scorching days.
“We decided, at Visit Tucson, to stop running from summer,” Gibson said. “We do have temperatures that get normal in the evening. And there’s still plenty to do and plenty to see. So in a way it becomes Tucson for Tucsonans.”
Ellie Lippel, co-owner of Woops! Main Gate, said trying new ways to engage with customers when school lets out is a welcomed change.
The financial strain is certainly felt when the summer hits, so an obvious fix is building a nest egg throughout the year, Lippel explained.
At the same time, the Woops! team gets creative by launching pop-up shops and pitching catering jobs or their personalized gift boxes to local businesses.
“It’s a lot of marketing efforts that bring people in the during summer,” Lippel said. “And all the products that we have, we push and really hustle during the summer because we have more time.”
Plus, Lippel said she didn’t have any illusions about the summer slump when she opened the franchise macaron shop with her sister, Naomi, in August 2016. And the advantages to being located at the heart of the University of Arizona outweigh any drawbacks.
“Being so close to the university has so many benefits for the rest of the year that I wouldn’t change it,” she said.
Currently, Woops! has eight employees whom are either college students or recent grads.
Lippel said during the school year, her customers are students, UA employees plus her shops gets plenty of foot traffic when there’s an event on campus.
What makes their eatery a bit more appealing is they’re not just catering to the student body, she said, offering a mellow shop along Main Gate Square. They also attract folks living near the university, who grab their daily coffee or treat, as well as throughout the city.
Lippel said this summer they’re working on partnering with Davis-Monthan Air Force Base with either a few pop-ups or offering a military discount.
This is also the first year they’re partnered with various mobile food ordering and delivery services, which will help their bottom line.
For the sake of staying customer friendly, Woops! will not truncate its hours for two reasons: the evenings are busy, due to year-round residents who come out later; and they don’t want disturb someone’s daily routine.
“We’re really customer-centric in our approach,” Lippel said. “And if I open two hours later, who’s to say that they’ll come back when the summer is over?”
Lippel added that she can run her business with one or two employees during the summer slump, “but that being said, it’s a challenge and you really have to look for other opportunities to sell.”
In years past, they’ve taken amusing risks by hosting a macaron decorating event for kids or a movie night. “We try new things, because we can,” she said, which is easier when the the volume of customers ebbs.
Another benefit, Lippel said, is the folks at the Marshall Foundation, which own and operate most of the real estate at Main Gate Square, attempt to draw people in during Tucson’s off season with free events, including the biweekly jazz concert.
“I really appreciate that effort because a lot of landlords wouldn’t offer that,” she said. “So whenever they come up with ideas I say, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”
Still one of the hardest parts of being a summertime vendor in Tucson is fielding all the gloomy questions about how business is faring due to the weather, Lippel said with a laugh.
“You want to transcend the negativity—that’s my approach,” she said. “Yeah, it stinks but we get through it.”