It’s not just visitors celebrating the warm weather at Spruce Street Harbor Park this Memorial Day weekend.
Though it’s finally hot and sunny, May 2016 was one of the coldest and wettest in years, snapping a 13-month streak of above-average temps in Philadelphia.
The dreary weather led to less-than-robust crowds at the waterside pop-up run by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which is back for a third year after two hit summers. Low attendance, in turn, meant lower-than-hoped-for revenue for the park and its vendor-partners.
“Good weather is the number one factor that affects how well the park does,” noted SSHP general manager Dave Moore, who also oversees Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest. “I think I checked the weather 80 times a day.”
“When the sun is shining, the vendors are smiling,” said Ryan Berley. As co-owner of ultra-popular Old City ice cream parlor Franklin Fountain — which is running three concession stands at the park this year — he knows a thing or two about gray days’ tendency to drag down sales.
“Rainy weather is never good for business” he continued. “Inside or out.”
Nicole Regis, a 25-year-old South Philly resident who’s been enamored with the pop-up since its 2014 launch, was making her first visit of the season on Friday. Why hadn’t she come down to check it out sooner? “It was like 50 degrees in May!”
“We’re here today because it’s finally hot and sunny,” said Michael, 9, who was messily enjoying an ice cream cone alongside his sister and mom during the family’s inaugural 2016 trip to the park.
Tasha and David Hannah of Belmont Village, on the other hand, had never heard of Spruce Street Harbor Park before this year. They came out after being enticed by a photo that kept popping up in their Facebook feed with a caption about how this weekend’s weather was going to be perfect for relaxing outdoors.
“It’s great, we love it,” said Tasha. “My one comment would be that they should add more hammocks. Later tonight it’ll probably be really crowded.”
Timing of good weather is also important. Before this one, every single weekend in May was rainy. Since 75 percent of SSHP revenue comes from weekend sales, per DRWC’s Moore, the wet Saturdays and Sundays really put a damper on things.
When the sun does make a showing, even briefly, there’s an immediate, noticeable difference in business, according to staff at the park.
“On Saturdays, if it cleared up just for a minute, people literally came out of the woodwork,” said Adrien Fitzwinge, who works at the stand for Kevin Sbraga’s Little Fat Ham.
“Any time it was sunny, it was busy,” concurred Jo Brigandi, a bartender back for her third year running the beer concession on the “wharf” section of the park. Being busy is good for the bottom line — i.e. the park itself, since, as a nonprofit, DRWC reinvests all revenue. But it’s also good for morale.
“It’s much less boring when it’s busy,” said Turk Mittelman from behind the counter at Port FedNuts, the Federal Donuts outpost at SSHP. She showed off a deck of cards she and her co-workers use to pass the time when there’s a dearth of business. According to various employees, there were several periods in May where there was only one customer every half hour, on average.
Of note, the park opened several weeks earlier than last year’s May 22 launch, so any revenue brought in early in the month could be viewed as icing on the cake.
That’s the feeling held by Berley, who says that on those few occasions it actually was sunny, revenue at Franklin Fountain’s concessions was up when compared to similar days last year. Also, he loved having extra time to train harborside staff.
“It was a great decision by DRWC to open the park three weeks earlier this year,” he said. It gave us all the chance to train staff and iron out the kinks before the beginning of the busy season.”
While some vendors experienced a few hiccups with set-up this year, they’re not upset enough to elaborate on record. In general, most at SSHP seem very pleased with their partnership with the park, and heap praise on the management team.
“We’re in great company with the other vendors and with a really smart team at DRWC that wants to do all they can for us to succeed,” said a spokesperson for Sbraga Dining, which is operating at the park for the first time this year.
“The success of Spruce Street Harbor Park and Summerfest is due to the collective vision and leadership of DRWC,” said Berley. “Allowing all of us to be creative with our concepts, build interesting, artistic structures and develop innovative food menus is why the partnership works. It’s a grassroots approach to waterfront development.”
Plus, all those clouds brought along their signature silver lining.
“The one positive result of the rain,” said Moore, “is that our new plantings received plenty of water to help them root and survive the summer.”