Some find golden lining to rainy days

By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / June 30, 2009
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Like fans of visiting teams, they keep their rooting interests quiet. Advertising their allegiances, they know, would only aggravate their weather-weary customers who come to them grumbling over the sodden start to summer.

But inside, owners of indoor entertainment venues are cheering wildly. This month’s relentless rain - there have been only four dry days since June 5 - has been a windfall for bowling alleys, pool halls, movie theaters, museums, and pretty much anywhere that can keep cabin-fevered families happily occupied for a few hours.

“We love it,’’ admitted Christina Vitagliano, the founder of Monster Mini Golf, which boasts indoor putt-putt courses and arcades. “Every time it rains, our phones start ringing at 8 a.m. People hate us because when it rains, we’re like, ‘Yes!’ ’’

The soggy weather, the product of a lingering high pressure system that is pressing unseasonably cool air down from Canada, has scuttled usual summer pastimes and sent people scurrying for cover. And meteorologists say the system shows little sign of budging.

Last weekend, at popular day-trip destinations such as Newburyport and Ipswich, beaches and backyards were nearly empty, while shops, pubs, and restaurants were bustling. In Arlington, a park usually overrun with families was deserted, but coffee shops were packed. In Harvard Square, a sprinkling of hardy souls played frisbee in JFK Park and strolled along the Charles River, but the below-street John Harvard’s Brew House was far busier, as fans gathered to watch an afternoon Red Sox game played in sunny Atlanta. People seem to be watching more television at home, too; Comcast said on-demand viewing has risen with the weather woes.

In Gloucester, the sunless skies are forcing people to find comfort elsewhere.

“If you can’t go to the beach, you watch TV and have some candy,’’ said Joanna Newman, a decorator at Nichols Candies with a sweetly honed sales pitch. “It puts smiles on everyone’s faces, and inches on everyone’s waistlines!’’

Businesses that cater to youngsters have been especially deluged. Frazzled by yesterday’s lunch rush, a hostess at Chuck E. Cheese’s, a pizza emporium, gasped “We’re swamped, call back later,’’ before dashing off.

At the Rainforest Cafe in the Burlington Mall, manager Anthony Giovanangelo was similarly harried. “Can’t talk, too busy,’’ he said.

The company’s corporate office said the theme restaurant, which draws many parents and their young children, thrives when the weather mirrors its name. “We have [general managers] that do rain dances,’’ said Victor Jones, vice president of domestic and international operations. “For us, rainy days are filled with sunshine.’’

Jones may get his wish. The high pressure area - what meteorologists call a “blocking high’’ - is pushing the jet stream farther south than usual for this time of year, bringing unusually cold air from Canada to the northeast.

“It’s been very persistent, and it could go on for the rest of the summer,’’ said Frank Strait, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather. “We’re sick of it here in Pennsylvania, too.’’

Jeremiah Pyle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, was somewhat more hopeful, saying the forecast for the July Fourth weekend is improving. Still, the situation has stubbornly defied prediction.

“We were seeing some encouraging signs that it might be letting up at the end of the week, but even that isn’t for sure,’’ Pyle said. “We keep thinking it’s going to loosen its hold, but it keeps hanging on.’’

In the muggy meantime, the great outdoors will continue to lose market share to more sheltered attractions. Boston Children’s Museum reports a “definite uptick’’ in attendance, and the New England Aquarium said attendance is up as much as 1,000 visitors a day over normal.

“A little bit like Provincetown on a rainy day on the Cape,’’ said Tony LaCasse, the aquarium’s media relations director.

In the same way, vacationers, tired of being cooped up in their summer rentals, are desperately searching for climate-controlled recreation.

“Oh my gosh, I think someone’s doing the rain dance for us,’’ said Jan Walsh, with barely restrained glee. A self-described “worker bee’’ at Imagination Island, an indoor play center in Plymouth, Walsh said the play site has become a popular backup plan for rained-out whale watches, sails, and swimming days.

“Everyone comes in all frazzled,’’ she said. “Moms, nannies, they just say ‘thank you,’ ’’ Walsh said. “We hate to have the summer be a washout, but it’s great for indoor activities.’’

Not that adults are neglecting themselves. Foxwoods, the resort casino in Connecticut, reports a surge in attendance this month, and CityGolf Boston, an indoor training facility, has seen growing demand. Business is also brisk at Kings, a Back Bay restaurant and bar that features bowling and pool.

“Obviously we don’t wish bad weather on anyone,’’ said marketing manager Meghan Harrell. “But if you’re going to be inside, we’ve got everything under one roof.’’

At Extra Innings, an indoor baseball facility in Watertown, employees are like baseball managers with a weak starter on the mound, hoping the game is postponed.

“We pray for rain,’’ said general manager Dana Levensaler. “It boosts our numbers by 30, 40 percent if the afternoon games are canceled.’’

At George Wright Golf Course in Hyde Park, the constant rain has been a mixed blessing. It has soothed the dry fairways, but left the greens waterlogged. It has saved the public course from buying water, but caused attendance to drop.

Still, golfers aren’t about to let the soggy streak keep them from the links for long, said course superintendent Len Curtin. “As soon as the sun peeks out, the parking lot fills up,’’ he said.