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Well, hot dog!

Two years ago, the Woody's Chicago Style hot dogs at Lowe's was among the highest revenue producers in the chain.

In fact, the hot dog vendor earned "franchise of the year" honors from the Morrison, Colo., company.

Refinancing was still the rage and Lowe's was the unchallenged home improvement big box in Medford. Then came several rounds of short-term interest rate hikes, the end of the housing boom and the arrival of Home Depot last December on the other end of town.

"We haven't been in the Top 10 (Woody's) since Home Depot opened, and they only list the top 10," says Corey Doyle, one of two local managers. "I know we haven't done anything different, we still have the Vienna beef dogs."

Nationally, home improvement stores have taken a big hit and retailers are expecting flat sales at best during the coming Christmas season. While retailers don't talk about specific locations, hot dog cart activity and surrounding banter is one indicator about what's going on.

"You couldn't hit the nail any better about gauging what's going on," says David Hart, who operates Dawg Stop locations at the Big R in White City and Home Depot on North Phoenix Road. "We're definitely an extra item. Every time gas bumps up 50 cents we take a hit for two weeks. When people are paying an extra 30, 40 or 50 dollars a day to fill the tank, people aren't going to stop and buy the family a hot dog."

Doyle says he and fellow Woody's manager Matt Hammers have reduced hours and cut out hourly employees.

"There's been about a 33 percent drop since Home Depot opened," Doyle says. "Foot traffic dropped off when it started raining and people haven't got used to the cold yet."

While the vendors at the home improvement stores have seen smaller crowds passing through the automatic doors, two established cart operators at Black Bird Shopping Center in west Medford and Joe's (formerly G.I. Joe's) in east Medford have weathered years of ups and downs. Both have built a loyal clientele that smooths out the fiscal bumps.

"We have a tremendous amount of traffic coming here for lunch that doesn't even go into the store," says Jay Moore, who has operated Uncle Al's outside Joe's at Poplar Square since 1987. "But it's a roller coaster ride in this business."

While extended spring rain might put a damper on water ski and wakeboard sales or lack of snow in December might slow the snowboard and skiing crowd, Moore says things even out.

"If you were to scale it over 10 years, it would average pretty much the same," Moore says. "Business is very consistent long term, and we have a good reputation."

The longest-running dog show in the valley belongs to American Dogs set up outside Black Bird and owned by Greg Schaffer.

"It's always steady here," says Liz Hanson, who has been slathering on the fixings for seven years. "There are people from Southern California who come here to get a hot dog whenever they are in the valley."

She says her business gets a boost when Black Bird customers come in to get their hunting gear in the fall, camping, barbecue and rafting material in the spring and skis at Christmastime.

"It just doesn't go up and down too much," Hanson says. "January is the one time, when the weather is foggy and nobody has money after Christmas. There are people who come out after paying their utility bills and say 'I've got $2 left, I can buy a hot dog.' "

When legendary hamburger maker Dell's set up shop across the Black Bird parking lot, it had limited impact on her cart.

When the Sportsman's Warehouse opens at the Delta Center in a few weeks, though, it could have a similar impact on Black Bird and Joe's as Home Depot's arrival.

"I really kind of doubt it will hurt us," Hanson says. "There's loyalty, but who wants to drive across town and put up with all the rigmarole and traffic to save a dime?"

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

Liz Hanson serves a jalapeño hot dog in front of the Black Bird store on Medford’s West Main Street. Pennell photo - Bob Pennell