Retail establishments presumably hellbent on turning Earth into one giant fiery ball of death are still blasting cold air onto the street—some even flouting a local law requiring chains and large stores to keep their doors shut when the A/C is on—in hopes of bringing in more customers. At least when those silly glaciers melt, we'll all have a few extra cardigans and t-shirts.
In 2008, City Council passed Local Law 38, mandating that certain stores keep their doors closed while running air-conditioning. Stores caught on a first offense are let off with a warning. A further violation warrants a fine of $200; that fine is doubled to $400 if a third violation is incurred in an 18-day period.
So far this summer, the Department of Consumer Affairs has issued warnings to 19 out of 124 stores visited during a general patrol inspection. Last summer, 38 out of 230 stores were slapped with violations. And the DCA says the law's too limiting, covering only stores larger than 4000 square feet and chains with five or more locations in the city. "A business that throws open its doors during the summer months in an attempt to lure in customers wastes an enormous amount of energy and increases a business’ operating costs," DCA Commissioner Julie Menin told us in a statement. "The City prohibits large chain stores from this practice but does not go far enough in prohibiting other types of businesses." Menin added that city officials are looking into making the current law more all-encompassing.
We conducted our own small investigation in 2012 and found an alarming number of stores in SoHo were blasting their A/C with the doors open. Store managers told us the open doors drew in more customers, a policy upheld at a retail chain I once worked at as well. And earlier this week, we found a number of retail establishments—Aldo, Urban Outfitters, American Eagle, Billabong and Converse, to name a few—with their doors open and the A/C running. Not all of these stores fall under the Local Law's jurisdiction, since companies like American Eagle and Billabong have only a few locations citywide. Most managers told us they were unaware of a law regulating A/Cs and open doors, though a manager at Kenneth Cole, which has only three stores in the city, said they keep the doors shut at larger stores, and a Forever 21 manager noted they keep the doors closed when the A/C is on.
Other employees, however, argued that leaving doors open was necessary in order to bring in customers. "It's more inviting to the guests. It lets them know we're readily available," a manager at Converse told us. An Aldo manager said leaving the door open "brings in more people because when it's closed, the traffic just walks by. With it open, more people come in because it presents more positive energy." And when asked why they leave the doors open, an employee at Urban Outfitters told us, "Because we just do."
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who proposed Local Law 38 while serving on City Council, told us, "Stores need to obey my law—and the City needs to enforce it. Blasting A/C with the doors open is super-wasteful and might even lead to a brownout or blackout." And A/C policing doesn't need to be restricted to city inspectors. "Consumers can also speak up: Tell them to close the door!" she added. You can also report violators by calling 311.
Additional reporting by Ricky Patricia Soberano.