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Floridians are seeing their electric bills spike this year

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

With an annual inflation rate of 9.1%, everyone seems to be paying more for everything these days. But add in a massive heat wave and a naturally hot climate, and some Floridians are getting hit with electric bills that are 10, 20, even 100% higher than last year. And that's hard if you have to keep what you're selling below the freezing point, like at an ice cream shop. Zeek and Hadi Alrayes are a father-and-son team who run Ice Sssscreamin in Cape Coral and Tampa, Fla. Welcome to the program.

HADI ALRAYES: Good morning.

ZEEK ALRAYES: Thank you for hosting us.

RASCOE: We first heard a little bit of your story from Fox 4 in South Florida. I wanted to ask, Zeek, can you tell us about your shop in Cape Coral and how big it is and how busy it gets right now?

Z ALRAYES: Our shop, Ice Sssscreamin, is considered to be one of the oldest in Cape Coral City. It's an icon for the city, actually. The building itself, it's been there for like 20 years. So it became like a spot for all the snowbirders, all the tourists that comes to Cape Coral.

RASCOE: Your power bills have jumped dramatically this year. Can you tell me about that?

Z ALRAYES: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. My bill in Cape Coral is almost 50 to 60% higher than my bill in Tampa.

H ALRAYES: A month ago, it was about 1,700, and it jumped up about $700 more in just one month.

RASCOE: And, Hadi, what have you and your father done to keep the bills down?

H ALRAYES: We've shut down ACs. We've shut down freezers. We've stopped and taken off ice cream flavors just to maintain ice cream and be profitable. And it sort of hurts us to do so because we have customers complaining because we don't have their favorite flavor, you know?

RASCOE: Oh. What are some of the flavors that y'all had to get rid of?

H ALRAYES: Oh, sadly, one of them's my favorite - is Almond Joy. Oh, my God.

RASCOE: You got rid of Almond Joy?

H ALRAYES: Right? I know.

RASCOE: Oh, no.

H ALRAYES: Very torturing, isn't it?

RASCOE: Yeah.

H ALRAYES: The coconut, the almonds - I'm going to miss it.

RASCOE: Well, and, Hadi, I also hear that you've had to cut down on the hours, too.

H ALRAYES: Yeah, we started opening the Cape Coral store at 4 o'clock instead. We used to open at 12. So for some families, I apologize.

RASCOE: How are you able to stay in business? Is this sustainable?

Z ALRAYES: I have to go back to work myself, which I can't because I have arthritis and so forth and everything. And my doctor is telling me not to work. My son is helping me in the shop right now, putting more hours just to keep the operation going. And sometimes, I have to subsidize costs for out of my own pocket.

RASCOE: Yeah. We tried to reach out to your utility company, LCEC, but couldn't make contact. They say on their website that natural gas prices are going up so much, and that's how they generate power. Hadi, does that make sense to you that just natural gas prices are going up, and that's why power has gone up so much?

H ALRAYES: Yes, we've seen gas prices going up, everything, inflation going up. If it goes up like, oh, to maybe 300 bucks, that's justified. It makes sense. OK. That's where the money went. But it makes no sense.

Z ALRAYES: We had month of May - I start seeing figures like 1,400, month of June, 1,700, you know? And I thought to myself, you know, it's going to stop over there. But when I received the last bill, 2,400, that's - what did I do in this month that is last month I didn't do, you know, that justified the $700 gap?

RASCOE: How is this affecting your customers?

Z ALRAYES: Let me give you an example. I used to sell a banana split for $10. I sell it for $14 now. That's 40% increase. It's still outstanding what we offer. However, if I was a customer - you know, I'm well-off - it wouldn't affect me. But you have to understand that ice cream should not be there. I'm an owner. You think I'm happy selling it for $14? Of course not. I would love to have it more affordable so people can enjoy more and more.

RASCOE: Zeek and Hadi Alrayes run Ice Sssscreamin in Cape Coral in Tampa, Fla. Thank you so much for joining us.

Z ALRAYES: Thank you.

H ALRAYES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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