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Helena businesses expecting boost as Montana legislative session begins

Posted at 11:42 AM, Jan 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-08 11:57:54-05

HELENA – Helena sees a burst of activity every two years as the Montana Legislature comes into town. Many local businesses say they’re expecting a boost from the 2019 legislative session, which kicks off on Monday.

In addition to 150 lawmakers, the session brings in hundreds of staff members and lobbyists, plus members of the public coming to testify. Several hotels around the city report they are expecting to have more of their rooms filled over the next four months.

Steve’s Cafe, on North Montana Avenue, is just blocks away from the State Capitol. Owner Steven Vincelli said Sunday he had already heard from a number of customers who had come into Helena for the legislative session.

“It’s always useful to see how things are changing, and paying attention to our guests and talking to them and seeing what specials they enjoy,” he said. “They’re bringing their specific tastes to the capital, so it’s really fun.”

The North Montana location has been serving breakfast and lunch for just over five years. Vincelli said they have seen increases in business during previous legislative sessions. This year, he said he’ll be working to ensure he has enough staff – and enough food – to handle any traffic.

“Staff won’t tell you, ‘Oh, we don’t have that item,’” he said. “We’re going to be plenty ready for however many people walk through the door.”

The session will include up to 90 legislative days. It is currently scheduled to wrap up by May 1.

Before the Legislature’s special session in November 2017, Cathy Burwell, the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO, estimated each legislator would spend an average of $134 a day. That number will likely be lower for a regular season, as many lawmakers will be renting houses or apartments instead of staying in hotels.

Whatever the final impact is, Vincelli says he’s looking forward to serving the people making their way to Helena.

“It’s fun to have a lot of variety, and fun to see a lot of different faces that come through the store,” he said.

-Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News