The biennial boost: Capitol businesses look forward to start of Legislature

Carson City merchants - especially those in the hospitality industry - have come to rely on the wave of business that comes with every legislative session.

Restaurants hope for more meetings to happen over their tables, dry cleaners expect more suits to clean and apartment managers expect a few more tenants.

Michelle Wilson, who works at Save On Cleaners in north Carson City, said business for the dry cleaner usually doubles every legislative session.

"That's when we start making a lot of money again," Wilson said.

But the local economy is still licking its wounds from the recession. During the 2009 Legislature, for example, restaurants and bars in Carson City recorded declining taxable sales every month of the session despite the 63 lawmakers, about 900 lobbyists and 300 or so staffers who piled into the capital.

That's not to say business owners are not looking forward to 76th legislative session, which convenes early next month.

Mom and Pop's Diner co-owner Doug Cramer said, "Yes, yes, yes and yes. Yes it's going to be an impact. I've already seen an increase of business."

Adele's owner Charlie Abowd said he's looking forward to 2011, but notes the proposed 5 percent pay cut for state workers could impact how often lawmakers are "wined and dined."

"I think that's going to have an effect also," Abowd said. "In the broad picture they all have to eat, they all have to drink.... Those things are not going to change dramatically. The fact of the matter is there's a perception the legislators are not going to want to portray."

And that may have an effect on the bottom line for some businesses.

Still, "this is something the town needs, we're all going to flourish from it," Abowd said. "But is this going to be a windfall? I don't see that."

John Ammerman, the chef at Glen Eagles Restaurant in north Carson City, said he's expecting the status quo this year. He said groups involved with the legislative session have already scheduled a few events.

"I would expect it to be similar to the last session, it's not going to be like the glory years," he said.

Lorne Malkiewich, the director of Legislative Counsel Bureau, said he still expects about 900 lobbyists to register for the session this year - about the same as 2009 - despite the fee for paid lobbyists raising from $100 to $300. He said the increased fee could mean some organizations only send a couple of representatives instead of four or five.

"With the number of issues we're facing there will be plenty of representation from the different interests," Malkiewich said.

So far 330 lobbyists have registered with the state, about on par at this time of year with previous sessions. Most of the lobbyists usually register after the State of the State address, this year on Jan. 24.

Susan Fisher, a lobbyist who represents the City of Reno among other organizations, said that increased fee may discourage some people from registering as lobbyists this session, and that could mean an impact on local businesses' bottom lines.

"I'll be interested to see how many lobbyists get registered," Fisher said.

Still, with the problems the state is facing, many organizations are not going to skip out on the 2011 session, said Robert Ostrovsky, whose list of clients includes the Nevada Resort Association and the City of Las Vegas.

He said what's likely to change are large dinners.

"If there's any austerity it's probably in the large group events," Ostrovsky said. "The catered events where they invite the entire Legislature. I'd expect them to be a little more subdued."

Ostrovsky, who has been working the sessions since 1979, said he thought the biggest change for Carson City businesses happened when voters approved the 120 day deadline in 1998, which resulted in lawmakers scheduling more early morning meetings and working later into the night in subsequent legislative sessions. That meant fewer outings to restaurants and bars.

But, Ostrovsky notes, "You still have to go to dinner."

Mike Veatch, the broker and owner of Valley Realty and Management, said a small group of returning lobbyists and lawmakers has given his realty company a small boost in business every couple years.

"We've got some lobbyists we've been working with since the early 1990s. It's a little bit of business we count on each session," Veatch said. "It's not big, maybe a half a dozen properties each session, but we enjoy seeing the same faces come back each session."


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