After a soggy start to the summer tourist season at Hampton Beach, the last six weeks sultry weather have put smiles back on the faces of most merchants.
''It's the basic rule of the beach -- when it is hot they will come," said a buoyant Bob Mitchell, who runs Mrs. Mitchell's Country Store where Ocean Avenue meets Ashworth Avenue. ''We've had a string of good weekends since Fourth of July so we are doing really, really well."
That wasn't the story earlier this summer, when Hampton's several dozen oceanfront businesses were reeling from the one-two punch of a soggy May and weather-related delays in the installation of water and sewer lines along Ashworth Avenue. The construction, which is designed to upgrade service to beach properties, runs behind the beachfront from the bridge over the Hampton River to the Ashworth-by-the-Sea hotel.
''A lot of merchants were reporting that their business was down, some by as much as 30 percent, because it rained and rained in May including all those doggone weekends," said Doc Noel, who runs the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce. ''Then, when the bad weather pushed the sewer construction into June, when we thought they'd be out of here by Memorial Day, we had a lot of people praying for a hot summer. Looks like that's just what we've got."
Brian Warburton, supervisor of the Seacoast division of the New Hampshire state park system, said Hampton Beach can support 70,000 to 100,000 beachgoers on a hot summer day.
''There aren't any counters so it is hard to know how many people we get but I would say the numbers for the past six weeks are right where we like to see them," Warburton said.
He added that his staff of 37 lifeguards has also noticed no drop in visitors after the deaths of two Massachusetts men in early July who drowned in a riptide just after the lifeguards had gone off duty.
Chris Corrente, 18, who has been dishing out ice cream at Stillwell's Surfside Scoop for three summers, said business is definitely booming this year.
''We're getting more regulars back in addition to the tourists," Corrente said. ''That says to me the day-tripper numbers are up."
Angela Cochran, who owns the Great American Country Store on Lafayette Road just outside the main beach area, said that fewer shoppers have come through the door, but business is better.
''They are spending more so it balances out," Cochran said. ''The big seller for us this year has been Christmas stuff."
Peter Marin, who owns two T-shirt shops on the beach, Airbrush Underground and Beach Bums, said his revenues are flat compared with past years but he is happy to see an influx of Canadian tourists.
''Even if our numbers aren't up, we are doing the business we want to do so I can't complain," Marin said. ''And more Canadians are important, particularly at the end of August when the day-trippers from the area are more focused on back-to-school."
Mitchell said he has heard some merchants still grumbling about poor sales, but he thinks the businesses that have diversified their product lines to make them more weatherproof are doing just fine. ''When it is hot, we sell suntan lotion and the beach chairs," said Mitchell.
Leo Poisson, who has owned the 31-unit Colonial Motel Suites on G Street since 1985, said he was one of those business owners who feared this summer was going to be a wash even after the sun returned because his revenues were off by 50 percent the first two weeks in July.
''We've been full since July 15 but I did get a little concerned when it was still slow the week right after July Fourth," Poisson said. ''In retrospect it probably had to do with the fact that we attract more long-term stays and people didn't take the week off after they had just had a three-day weekend."
Town Manager James Barrington said many in town expect that the new sewer and water lines, along with new sidewalks and curbing on Ashworth Avenue, will draw more upscale businesses to the beach. ''Certainly that's why some people were willing to vote the $12 million for it at Town Meeting two years ago," Barrington said. ''We knew that the construction was going to be disruptive but the contractor has worked very hard with us to keep the disruption to a minimum."
At the same time the town is installing new lines, Barrington said, it is improving the drainage and adding curbing and sidewalks.
He said the contractor, R. Zoppo Corp. of Stoughton, is scheduled to resume work after Hampton's Shellfish Festival from Sept. 9 to Sept. 11. Construction should be completed this fall, he said.
John Grandmaison, whose family's hotel, Ashworth-by-the-Sea, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, said he thinks that the utility construction will attract more upscale businesses to the beach and bring in more families.
''When they set out to do the sewers, the town took the opportunity to make some other improvements so I think it is going to clean up the area and just make things look neater and therefore more attractive," he said.
Caroline Louise Cole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.