Business reporter for The Billings Gazette.

Rex front view

Rex Restaurant owner Gene Burgad has closed the popular Montana Avenue eatery.  

LARRY MAYER, Gazette Staff

If, like me, you’re a holder of a Rex restaurant gift card that is sitting worthless in your wallet, you’re not alone, says the Montana Attorney General’s office.

Ryan Sullivan of the agency’s consumer protection division said last week he’s received five complaints from people wondering what recourse they have for the cards.

“They’re frustrated. You spend a lot of money and expect to be able to use those gift cards,” he said.

I’ve probably received about twice that number of calls here at The Gazette since February after the Rex abruptly shut down. The restaurant's closure came after a push to sell gift cards for the holiday season. The eatery had operated 35 years in downtown Billings at 2401 Montana Ave.

Owner Gene Burgad said at the time he was hoping to sell soon to an employee, but no deal has emerged.

Signs on the exterior windows, which remain there today, direct people to an email address to get more information about their gift cards. Several people have reported receiving no response after sending an email.

Sullivan said the ownership group, Rex Hotel Partnership, is working to settle its debts — a process that has delayed the sale. The group has not filed to declare bankruptcy, he said.

“We’re just being patient. It does take time. We’re hoping to get all our consumers made whole once the sale is completed,” Sullivan said.

According to state law, Rex gift cards remain valid, but no clear provisions exist to direct a business’ actions in the event of a closure.

Burgad has kept quiet since the restaurant closed, and his attorney did not return a message relayed through Sullivan. So it’s unclear when a sale might close, or what a prospective new owner’s plans would be.

Sullivan encouraged consumers with complaints to contact his office at 1-800-481-6896 or online at www.dojmt.gov/consumer.

Sullivan said problems with gift cards reach his office occasionally, and business owners typically try to make customers whole. He said he believes the Rex is trying to do the same.

“They’re trying to make good on this,” he said.

Inside the numbers

263,504 — Train carloads that traveled through the United States two weeks ago, up 2.3 percent from the same week in 2016, the American Association of Railroads reports.

More good news for shippers and industry in Montana: coal did well in that week, up 11.2 percent from the previous year.

The bad news: 2016 was a historically bad year for the coal industry as mining companies lost major ground to natural gas and renewables. Last month was still more than 40 percent below June 2014 levels, according to the trade group.

27 million — Dollars to be doled out by the Montana Department of Commerce in November for affordable housing. Billings is one of eight cities on the list for money, along with Butte, Deer Lodge, Kalispell, Lewistown, Livingston and Poplar/Wolf Point.

$2.21 — Average national price of gas heading into the Fourth of July, the typical peak time for driving and fuel cost. This year, however, the mid-summer fuel price is lower than the price on Jan. 1, according to GasBuddy.com, the first time that’s happened in 17 years.

Gas prices were about $2.30 in Billings last week, with lows spotted at $2.08. Starting Saturday, gas prices went up 4.5 cents a gallon because of the gas tax hike approved by Montana legislators this year. The increase will help fund state and local road projects and other transportation costs.

Market hopping on South Side

The Minnesota Avenue Flea Market is in full swing this summer on Billings South Side, and organizer Tammy Fletcher says it has grown over the past three years.

Vendors are selling “jewelry, clothing and stuff from people’s garages” from the parking lot at the corner of Minnesota Avenue and South 27th Street, said Fletcher, who co-owns For the Funk of It and Mel’s Lunch Box in the area.

The market started June 3 and runs 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays through Aug. 19. Vendor space is available and costs $25, Fletcher said. Her number is 406-591-0658 for more information.

The market has developed synergy with other downtown events this summer, she said.

People “love it, especially when people can shop the farmer’s market, and then come to Mel’s Lunch Box for lunch,” Fletcher said.

Out and about

Glass Specialists of Billings is coming to Shiloh Crossing, according to sign at the shopping center.

Vision Optical is the tenant coming to the Bourne Again Shoppe at 1701 Grand Ave., which is undergoing a $20,000 remodel.

Clarification

From last week's column: The Weed Man franchise coming to Billings offers a customized weed-control program, which does not include weed pulling.  

Haikus from the valley

Have holiday fun.

Don’t ignite any wildfires

From your perch on Rims

Send tips, suggestions and other missives to business reporter Erik Olson at eolson@billingsgazette.com, or call 406-657-1306, or find him on Twitter @BGErikOlson

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