Among many shoppers this summer is Bob Faylor, of Swanton Township, inspecting a stainless-steel grill while browsing in the outdoor section of The Andersons in Maumee.
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Outdoor furniture providing low-maintenance comfort and grills crafted from stainless steel were on area residents' shopping lists last week as they tried to get ready for today's July Fourth gatherings - and some retailers hoped to make up for rain-delayed spring sales.
At The Andersons in Maumee, for example, Pam and Lynn Carper were sitting on lawn furniture arranged inside a square gazebo with net sides, discussing which of the many metal-framed outfits they had seen at various stores would grace their yard in Gibsonburg, Ohio.
Nearby was a hexagon-shaped steel gazebo that was 12-foot in diameter and cost about $375, including netting and curtains, that had also caught the attention of Fred and Janelle Pakulski of rural Liberty Center, Ohio.
"It adds an instant living area," Mrs. Carper said while lounging in the 10-foot by 10-foot gazebo that cost nearly $250 with bug-discouraging netting.
The Maumee-based chain with four stores in northwest Ohio, meanwhile, was among local retailers getting off to a slow start this spring as rain foiled customer efforts to install patios, furnish outdoor settings, and enjoy yards. Plus, shipments of outdoor furniture from China were delayed, cutting down on stock available to those shopping despite the rain, said Dave Gruen, who is charge of purchasing outdoor furniture and grills for The Andersons. Stores can recoup those sales, however, he added.
Jim Shea, owner of Dinettes & Patio Plus in Monroe, said he hopes to make up for lost sales from a wet spring in a week or so as people spruce up their outdoor living areas.
"Now that the weather has broken, it's going crazy," he said Tlast week. "A lot of people are staying home for vacation because of the high cost of gas."
Before summer reached its symbolic peak today - when 70 percent of barbecuing Americans are expected to cook out, if the weather holds - residents of northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan were making first-time purchases of outdoor furniture and grills, replacing older models, or rounding out their array of summertime items.
Last year, sales of outdoor furniture made in North America totaled $2.3 billion, an amount that was relatively flat from the year before since both the spring and summer were wet. Sales nationwide so far this year have been strong, though, and expectations are high, according to the Summer & Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association.
Rain hurt national grill sales last year, too, but a rebound is expected, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. Sixty percent of the 14.1 million grills shipped last year were gas-fueled, while 38 percent were charcoal and 2 percent electric, the trade group said.
There are bastions of charcoal devotees left in the area: Charcoal grills selling for $30 to $90 are by far the most popular at the Kmart on Manhattan Avenue in Toledo.
But at Toledo's Myers Hearth & Casual, only one charcoal grill had sold this year as of early last week. The business carries one charcoal model, but gas grills are far more popular, especially those ranging from $600 to $900, said Lori Fletcher, manager.
Grills with at least some stainless steel are popular at The Andersons, Myers, and Home Depot in Bowling Green.
Home Depot has a line of Vermont Castings stainless steel grills that sell for $400 to $900, but other manufacturers offer lower-priced models, including a Fiesta for $200, said Michael Nutter, supervisor of the Bowling Green store's garden department.
Rain has not hurt grill sales, he said, and it didn't stop the store from selling out of roughly 30 canopy swings for $140 in about two months this spring, either.
"We have people buying grills in February," he said. "If they're buying them in the snow, I don't think they really care about rain too much."
Patio sets - which can range from $200 to $2,200 or more, depending on the retailer - are popular with glass tops at some stores, but both Mr. Shea of Dinettes & Patio Plus and Ms. Fletcher of Myers Hearth & Casual said stone and other looks are catching on because of high winds in the area.
They and other retailers said aluminum sling chairs sell well because they don't have to be painted or otherwise maintained, and people don't have to worry about storing cushions when not in use. Matching sling lounge chairs, tropical print accessories, wicker, gliders, chairs that swivel or have other actions, swings, and even folding lounge chairs are being sold this year, retailers said.
At least one local couple, Patti and Scott Halloran of Monclova Township, has been scouring area stores for the right patio furniture without much success.
"We want quality, but not expensive," Mrs. Halloran said. "If it is really nice, it's like, 'Who wants to spend that much money to leave it outside?' "
She added: "We don't want to haphazardly buy something you need to get rid of in two years."
Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6087.