When it rains: Showers spell trouble for businesses

In an ironic twist, the very businesses hit hardest by last summer's extreme drought conditions are now suffering from the heavy rainfall.

"We're harmed by it," says Henry Weinschenk, owner of Express Car Wash, which was shut down by the city for six weeks last fall in a water-saving effort.

During that period, Weinschenk and other car wash operators felt unfairly targeted. "To single us out for near extinction is patently unfair and un-American," Weinschenk raged during the shut down.

Though he came up with a "dry-wash" system that allowed him to keep business running, he still lost as much as 60 to 65 percent of his revenue. When the reservoirs rose to 70 percent capacity in late October, Weinschenk hoped it signaled the end of tough times.

It didn't. February, when snow fell weekly, was "a record low for business," Weinschenk reports.

"The last three weeks have been really bad," Weinschenk says, reporting that the near constant precipitation has slashed business by 40 percent.

It's not Weinschenk's imagination that the weather has been worse than usual. Jerry Stenger, a research coordinator for the State Climatology Office at UVA, says May– with 22 days of measurable precipitation– had more rainy days than any other month in 50 years. Instead of the 4.86-inch average for May, Charlottesville received nearly 9 inches of rain.

Exacerbating the wet, Stenger says, was the chill. The cooler than normal temperatures reduced evaporation.

The good news, Stenger says, is that "for all intents and purposes, the drought is over." But that doesn't make things easier for some businesses.

"The cutting conditions are terrible," says Dave Dodson, an owner of Meriweather Mowing Service. Dodson says mowing lawns diminished to a trickle in May because heavy equipment wreaks havoc on soggy earth– and cutting wet grass can damage mowers too.

Since Meriweather Mowing does more than just lawn maintenance, Dodson says it's hard to keep up when the weather is bad. "We're about three or four weeks behind," he says, on tasks such as mulching, weeding, and cleaning gutters.

Though Dodson says the work is backed up, customers have been "very understanding." And so has he. "In the long run," Dodson says, "moisture is better."

Not necessarily so for James River Runners, a Scottsville company that rents rafts and tubes for lazy rides down the James River.

There's nothing lazy about the James right now, says Christie Schmick, who runs the business with her husband, Jeffrey, and son, Marc Bolen. No one should be braving the waters, she says: "It's too high, too mighty, too dangerous."

James River Runners won't send customers out unless the river is at 5'8" or lower. So far this season it's been as high as 18 feet, and as of Monday, June 2, stood at 7'8", still two feet too high.

Last year's drought, in contrast, served James River Runners well. Tubers and rafters were able to hit the water from late March right up until the parched days of late August, when water levels literally bottomed out.

Weinschenk, Dodson, and Schmick all agree that some middle ground would be best for business, but Schmick says it doesn't surprise her at all that the weather has been going to extremes.

"Murphy's out there somewhere," she laughs.