‘A double whammy’

Joseph Baca runs Santa Famous Street Eats across Paseo de Peralta from the Roundhouse. This year’s legislative session will largely be held virtually, putting yet another hit on Santa Fe’s hospitality industry. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Santa Fe has taken its fair share of economic hits over the past 10 months, ever since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down or restricted many sectors of the tourist economy that drives the city.

Now, some local businesses are expecting another kink in the local economy during one of the slower times of the year.

The state capitol building, commonly known as the Roundhouse, will be closed to the public and lobbyists during the 60-day legislative session slated to start later this month. House Speaker Brian Egolf previously told the Journal this was to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Additionally, many lawmakers are expected to participate in the session virtually from the safety of their homes, limiting the number of legislators in Santa Fe during the session.

The annual legislative session usually attracts thousands of people to Santa Fe each year and their presence can be felt in long bottlenecks of cars on their way to the Roundhouse. Many also stay in local hotels, and dine at restaurants around the downtown and Capitol areas.

Four food trucks serve food across Paseo de Peralta from the Roundhouse. This year’s legislative session will be largely virtual, adding yet another blow to Santa Fe’s hospitality industry. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Local business owners say their absence will be felt this year, as many businesses are already struggling to survive after months of restrictions and a decrease in foot traffic.

“It definitely decreases our occupancy, which is already low at this point,” said Molly Ryckman, vice president of sales and marketing at Heritage Hotels. “We’ll … start to feel the effects in the next several weeks.”

Heritage Hotels has multiple locations around Santa Fe, including the St. Francis Hotel, the Eldorado and Hotel Chimayó. During a traditional session, these hotels and others like them might host large conferences for organizations and interest groups that attract people from around the state.

But Ryckman said a current ban on indoor dining makes such events nearly impossible, even if an in-person session was taking place.

“Without food and beverages, it’s more of an issue,” she said.

She also said traffic from the legislative session makes up 20% to 30% of her company’s revenue in January, adding that hotels have turned their attention to future months when a vaccine might be more widely distributed.

Those struggles are also being seen at restaurants, some of the hardest hit businesses in the area during the pandemic.

The Rio Chama Steakhouse is located near the Roundhouse and is often frequented by legislators, lobbyists and others during the session.

“We would get hundreds of people that would come for lunch or afternoon cocktails,” said Rick Pedram, president of Santa Fe Dining, which owns Rio Chama.

Pedram said the restaurant has struggled, as have others, in recent months, but that the loss of legislative customers is still a blow, especially since January already sees fewer customers.

“We are fully aware of the impact its going to have,” he said. “It’s like a double whammy.”

He said customers coming in during the session typically comprise 60% of their business during this time, making this a substantial loss.

Smaller locations are also expecting an economic pinch from a virtual session.

Joseph Baca runs a food truck called Santa Famous Street Eats located across the street from the Roundhouse and said those walking from the Legislature can help business when days are slow.

“I think it helps a lot of local businesses,” Baca said. “It turns Santa Fe into the little hub that it can be.”

Some have begun adjusting for a session like never before.

As the sign says, the state Capitol will be closed to the public during the upcoming 60-day legislative session. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce announced Dec. 8 that it, along with such other organizations as the New Mexico Hospitality Association, would be hosting a “Virtual Roundhouse.”

According to the website, it will feature office hours with legislators and various conferences for certain industries, with one day dedicated to trends in the hotel industry.

“Among the challenges of a pandemic, accessing your legislators should not be one of them,” the website state.

The legislative session begins Jan. 19.

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