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Trailhead Spirits, located in the historic Billings Depot, officially opened Wednesday and is selling locally brewed hooch.

After years of work and producing reams of paperwork for federal, state and local officials, owners Casey and Steffanie McGowan got final approval from the state of Montana on Jan. 10 to open their distillery at 2314 Montana Ave., and start selling their own liquors, including Great North Vodka.

The Billings couple invited some family and friends and vendors in for a two-day soft opening on Jan. 11 and 12.

“It was just packed,” said Casey McGowan.

The Moscow Mule and a hot chocolate drink called the Mountain Alpine were the two biggest sellers on that frigid weekend.

Under Montana law, the distillery can sell two drinks per day to each customer, drinks that have to be consumed at Trailhead Spirits. Customers also may buy two bottles of liquor each day. The distillery will be open from noon to 8 p.m. for people who want to buy a bottle. In conformance with state law, cocktail service runs from 4 to 8 p.m.

Geography keeping grocer at bay

In the wake of the announced sale by Supervalu Inc. of its Albertsons grocery stores to a private equity fund, some readers have been asking why a regional grocery chain called Rosauers Supermarkets doesn’t come to Billings.

Over the past decade, Billings shoppers have seen their choices of traditional grocery stores dwindle as they merged or closed.

Rosauers chief executive and president Jeff Philipps said the company’s distribution center in Spokane, Wash., only reaches the Bozeman store, so there are no immediate plans to open another grocery, even in Montana’s largest city.

“I know it doesn’t seem like much further to Billings, but when you go and come back (from Bozeman) it’s another 300 miles,” he said.

Philipps, who graduated with three degrees from Carroll College in Helena, runs 21 grocery and drug stores, including eight in Spokane and four in western Montana.

“I would love to be in Billings. We have a concept that would be very well accepted by the people in Billings,” he said.

On Jan. 9, Supervalu announced it would sell 877 grocery stores under the Albertsons brand and other national chains to a limited liability company run by Cerberus Capital Management of New York City.

No immediate changes to Albertsons inventories or customer service are expected, a Supervalu spokesman said.

Travel honors for Montana resorts

Two Western Montana resorts are plush enough to be considered four diamond destinations, according to AAA MountainWest in Helena.

The resorts honored are Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Emigrant and The Lodge at Whitefish Lake. The two Montana businesses join a group of 1,535 hotels across the U.S. and from Canada to the Caribbean to receive a four diamond ranking.

Meanwhile in Billings, Travel Café sold enough vacations to Disney’s vacation properties to be designated an authorized Disney vacation planner. Travel Café, formed in Billings 14 years ago, also operates offices in Bozeman, Great Falls and Missoula.

Quick construction on South 27th Street

-- A larger Pizza Hut is open on South 27th Street near Interstate 90.

In nine weeks, Langlas Construction of Billings tore down the former restaurant on Belknap Avenue and built another Pizza Hut. Construction was completed the week before Christmas, thanks to multiple crews working on different projects.

“We’re framing the walls off site while we’re demolishing the old building and doing a new foundation for the new building,” said project superintendent Joe Clark.

The pizza restaurant right off of Interstate 90 is larger, including a dining room.

-- Steve Warrenburg and Ty Lantis opened another Cross Fit Gym on Jan. 2 behind Office Depot at 2701 Enterprise Ave., Suite 1. They use the slogan “Back to the Basics.”

“It is a full body workout that anybody can do from second grade up to your retirement years. Everyday is a different workout,” Warrenburg said. “I do Cross Fit so I can do everything else in life.”

-- Big Sky Resort enjoyed 16 percent more skier visits over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays than the previous record, according to general manager Taylor Middleton. Big Sky, south of Bozeman, also handled nearly 6,000 holiday skiers in one day, which set another record.

Scams du jour

The Top 10 scams for 2012 are in and the Better Business Bureau of Spokane, Wash., said fake car ads top the list. The online ad promises to pay you $400 or more per week just for driving around with their logo on your car. This scam wants you to wire money before the sign is made — money you’ll never see again if you fall for this.

The rest of the Top 10 follows:

2. The grandparents scam, where relatives are duped into wiring money to bail out a grandchild, who is a scam artist posing as a family member.

3. Mystery shopping.

4. Prepayments for non-existent loans.

5. Politically worded scams, including one saying President Obama will pay your utility bills.

6. The Jamaican phone lottery scam where the caller claims to represent the BBB, the FBI or another group trying to collect a fee before sending a Mercedes Benz or a $1 million prize.

7. Fake tweets trying to force you to click on a link to stop the posting of an embarrassing video of you on Facebook. Opening the link will allow the scammers to steal your personal information.

8. "Storm chasers" offering to do home improvements that don’t get done or done correctly.

9. Cheap prices for counterfeit sports stuff or phony tickets.

10. And the charity scams based on the Newtown, Conn., shooting, proving there is no tragedy that criminals won’t exploit.

Laugh lines

What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?


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Business editor for the Billings Gazette.