AC, BEVERAGES FIND SILVER LINING IN KILLER HEAT

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It's so hot you could ... Sleep with an air conditioner.

Hang out at a Gatorade "cooling and refueling" station.

Run a public service campaign.

End up with 700 fatalities.

All of the above were responses to the triple-digit heat wave that has sizzled across the country in the past couple of weeks.

One epicenter of the heat was Chicago, where Dorothy Denzler, VP-director of public relations at DDB Needham Worldwide, spent some quality time with her air conditioner. She reported sleeping in front of it-on the floor-for two nights. Said Ms. Denzler: "You've got to do what you've got to do."

Joseph Beatrice, president of New York agency Grybauskas Beatrice, also kept company as much as possible with air conditioners.

"I went from the air-conditioned house to my air-conditioned car to take my kids to the air-conditioned movie theater to see the Power Rangers," he said.

Traffic was hot and heavy, in appliance stores.

"It's getting kind of crazy; if it wasn't for two deliveries [of 300 air conditioners each] on Saturday, we would have sold out," said Steve Weisberg, manager at Nobody Beats the Wiz on Broadway in New York.

"Just last weekend, we sold 95% of [air conditioners and fans] we have here, but we had enough to satisfy our customers," said Lee Frutkin, general store manager at a Kmart in Fresh Meadows, N.Y.

Even though 40 million Americans use central air, room air conditioners are still good business for Whirlpool Corp. The company said it shipped more units this year than in '94, when dealers ran out.

Any summer is also prime time for the beverage industry, which pours more than half of its marketing dollars into this season.

Gatorade sales jump 2% for every degree the mercury rises over 80, said Patti Jo Sinopoli, director of public relations for Quaker Oats Co. Beverages.

The company steps up educational efforts about rehydration during heat waves, she said, and in Chicago set up free "cooling and refueling" stations for bike messengers and other panting parties.

Other beverage marketers let heat, instead of promotion, create the demand.

"We reserve [promotion] for a month when the product doesn't move as quickly," said Zaida Housley, marketing manager at Saratoga Water Group in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., who reported that sales have sprung up 30% in the past five weeks.

More than half of the heat-related fatalities have been in Chicago, and City Hall came under attack for not responding adequately to the crisis.

City officials created a public service campaign, launching June 15, to notify citizens about city "cooling centers." But the "criticism now is that they were too late in running the announcements in the media," said Lori Tietz, public information assistant for the Chicago-based National Safety Council.

The campaign was too little or too late for at least 400 Chicagoans who succumbed to the heat.

Contributing to this story: Leah Rickard, Kemba Johnson, Andrew Wallenstein, Jeanne Whalen and Lauren Drinkard.

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