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As temperatures soar, local businesses offer relief from dangerous heat

With Boston in the grips of a heat wave, people are looking for ways to cool off.

Tourists kept in the shade buying tickets for the New England Aquarium in Boston.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

When a heat wave hits Boston, most locals are advised to stay inside, flip on the window unit, and avoid the sweltering sun.

And while many Boston businesses see a decrease in foot traffic on hot summer days, those that give people a break from the dangerous heat often see an attendance bump.

The New England Aquarium is a staple of the Boston summer experience. Meghan Bedsted, director of visitor experience, said stifling temperatures often drive people inside.

“I think for Boston residents especially, they know it’s a cool, dark place where they can come spend a couple hours out of the heat,” said Bedsted. “And if you stare at the giant ocean tank, it sort of feels like you’re underwater. So that’s a fun way to escape the heat wave.”

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Studies show that extreme heat is the most deadly form of weather in the United States. With many New England homes lacking central air conditioning, and temperatures expected to linger in the upper 90s through Sunday, Bedsted expects attendance to remain high through the weekend.

“I definitely think we’ll see increased foot traffic,” she said. “We’ve already seen it this week. So I think that will only continue as the heat gets worse.”

Tourists packed a "Codzilla" speed boat tour on a hot Boston day.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Molly Vashon, an aquarium guest visiting from Maine with her family, said it was her first visit to the aquarium in over a decade.

“It’s been around 14 years since I was last here, the last couple of years we’ve definitely been trying to stay indoors,” Vashon said. “It definitely was a nice break from the heat. The kids love it, they’re loving being out of school.”

Extreme heat has become a serious issue in Massachusetts and elsewhere. From 1971 to 2000, the average summer in Massachusetts saw four days over 90 degrees. By mid-century, climate scientists say, the state may have 10 to 28 days over 90 degrees each year.

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For Vashon and her family, not having air conditioning at home makes an aquarium visit all the more enjoyable.

“I live out in the back woods, we don’t really use air conditioning, we sort of just deal with it,” Vashon said.

The Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg is another popular spot for families to escape the heat. The lodge offers a large indoor water park open to both hotel guests and visitors with a day pass, and can host upward of 1,000 visitors at any time.

Henry Tessman, general manager of the lodge, said the indoor attractions are an oasis for visitors.

The Great Wolf Lodge in FitchburgGreat Wolf Lodge

“It’s just too hot to be outside,” Tessman said. “A nice advantage about Great Wolf during the heat wave is that we’re indoors. So even if you booked a month ago not knowing what the weather was going to be, you know you’re safely coming to an indoor water park.”

The lodge has seen an uptick in traffic for its other indoor attractions, which include rock climbing, arcade games, and an ice cream shop.

Locally, another ice cream shop is seeing mixed results in the current heat wave. Robert Rook, founder of Boston ice cream store Emack and Bolio’s, said that temperatures can get too hot — even for ice cream.

“Ice cream is still a cheap treat, and it’s cooling,” Rook said. “A lot of people need to stay inside and hydrate. People don’t really want to walk around when it’s 90-some-odd degrees outside, so there’s a little less traffic during the day. The nights during the heat wave are always a lot busier than normal. The days are still busy, but they’re not crazy busy like the nights are.”

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Rook, who attended law school at Suffolk University, founded Emack and Bolio’s in a Brookline basement in 1970 as a place for concert-goers to get a treat after a night of live music.

Now, Rook said that his focus is on giving customers an easy way to cool off while dealing with rising global temperatures.

“We’ve always had heat waves, but a lot of these rising temperatures are due to climate change,” Rook said. “We’re trying to do our little part in trying to contribute less to pollution, and give people a little break from the heat when they need it.”


Collin Robisheaux can be reached at collin.robisheaux@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ColRobisheaux.