Special session boosts business in the capital city
Closing time for Bella Fiore Wines is usually “11ish”, but two weeks ago the business wasn’t locking its doors until 2 a.m. – in the middle of February.
“We get a lot of lobbyists,” said owner Arturo Mena.
Local restaurants, bars and hotels are saying the 26th special session, and a state cheerleading competition in late February that attracted about 1,100 people to the area, brought a welcome respite from what is normally a slow time of year for business in an already sour economy.
Now, Mena jokes, if lawmakers could only return for another special session before summer.
“I know we can’t afford it, but it would be great,” he said with a smile.
While hotels catering to visitors reported a 29 percent occupancy rate in January, down from 41 percent in January 2009, most Carson City hotels reported sold out nights last month, said Candace Duncan, the executive director of the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“I think the combination of having the legislators here and cheerleading families definitely contributed to that,” Duncan said. And given the down economy and off season for tourism, “For anybody to have a sold out night is pretty extraordinary.”
The recession has taken its toll on food and drinking establishments in Carson City, too. The December 2009 taxable sales report, the latest data available, showed a 39 percent decrease in sales for local bars and restaurants compared to December 2008.
Doug Cramer, co-owner of Mom and Pop’s Diner, said November, December and January were some of the worst months he’s had since taking over the restaurant in 1998.
“I have not had days like that since 2002,” he said
But with lawmakers and some 250 lobbyists in town, Cramer and other restaurant owners said the special session helped sales.
Charlie Abowd, owner of Adele’s Restaurant and Lounge, said his business has been through 15 legislative sessions. But the special sessions, depending on their length, can have “a more intense, compact impact on business.”
During a regular 120-day legislative session, most lawmakers and lobbyists find temporary housing in homes or apartments where they have kitchens.
“So a special session they don’t do that, so typically people have to go out and find places to eat,” Abowd said. “So I’m sure that’s across the board, all of the food and beverage businesses in Carson City saw a bump in their business.”
Greg Ferraro, the president of The Ferraro Group, a Reno-based lobbying firm, said he and his colleagues at the capital likely gave Carson City businesses a boost.
“No one was setting down any roots, everybody went day to day,” Ferraro said, adding that could mean going to a store to buy a new shirt instead of washing one as well as eating out more often.
“Lobbyists eat and they entertain and try to make the best of it all,” Ferraro said. “And Carson City businesses are the beneficiaries of that.”
Like most restaurants in the Carson City area, the past few months have been difficult, said Jim Phalan, owner of the Firkin Fox, a restaurant and bar across the street from the capital.
But he adds he’s also seeing a new trend in business for 2010: up, if just slightly.
Still, the six-day special session made a large impact on his three-year-old business.
“We were busy from the minute we opened until the minute we closed,” he said.
Back at Bella Fiore Wines, in the wake of the special session, Mena now say weekdays are quieter.
“It probably won’t pick up until summer,” he said. “We just don’t feel comfortable spending money right now, anybody.”