Just west of the state Capitol, Comma Coffee serves as the unofficial break room for lawmakers, lobbyists and staffers when the Legislature is in session.
In normal times, the session is a boon for business. But this year, with coronavirus restrictions in place, Comma owner June Joplin isn’t so sure.
“It’ll be a boost, but it’s just hard to know (how much),” said Joplin, who has had to lay off much of her staff as the number of customers has dwindled during the pandemic.
The Legislature’s four-month, biennial session began last week, but it won’t be the typical beehive of activity. Access to the statehouse has been limited to lawmakers, staff and a handful of reporters.
Two special sessions last year during the pandemic had similar restrictions.
The sessions would have normally meant a “huge boost” in business, something Joplin compared to “Christmas in the middle of July.” Instead, they resulted in barely a blip in sales, she said.
While Joplin and other business owners around the statehouse are keeping their fingers crossed as the new Legislature gets underway, early reports aren’t encouraging.
Ronni Hannaman, executive director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce, said the “usual buzz associated with the legislative session is missing.”
“There is absolutely no activity on Carson Street” around the Capitol, she said. “When the Legislature is in session, you have to be careful driving around the Third Street area since there’s always a stream of legislators, lobbyists or staff walking across the street to meet and dine. Nothing like that at all this year.”
Melody Demuth, general manager of the Fox Brewpub, a restaurant and bar near the statehouse, said the influx of business for the special sessions wasn’t huge, but she “definitely always notices” when lawmakers are in town.
“We love having them come here,” she said.
Brennan Best is marketing director for Reno Local Food Group, a restaurant group that owns The Union brewery and restaurant and Cucina Lupo Italian restaurant, both about a block from the legislative building.
He said both eateries are hoping for a boost in sales from the Legislature, even if its less than normal.
“We see increased numbers every year whenever legislative people come in, especially being right across the street,” Best said. “It really gives a boost to our lunches and then we typically offer some sort of catering menu.”
The restaurants, which have experienced a drop in business during the pandemic, don’t rely on the Legislature to stay afloat — but it can definitely help the bottom line, he said.
“It’s definitely a happy boost; we always love seeing it because we always love to see an increase in numbers,” Best said.
Joplin, who celebrated Comma Coffee’s 20th anniversary last year, said extra income earned during sessions can help pay for projects around the shop.
“Do I depend on the session? Yes and no. No, because it’s only every other year, so that year in between I do just fine,” she said. “But it is a boost.”