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While Mark Cleveland was sitting in his home in Reno, Nevada, last week watching Donald Trump excite crowds at his rally in Evansville, Indiana, he was reminded why he was a fan of the president.

"Anyone who can piss off as many people as he can," Cleveland said, laughing. "Somehow I tend to affect people the same." 

In that moment he decided he would find out when the next event was happening and go. The rallies look plenty entertaining, he said, but more than that Cleveland senses the country is in the middle of a moment of profound national importance.  

"This is gonna be a big deal," he said, referring to the Trump presidency. "I just want to see it. When you go into the history books, this is gonna be here."

And so Cleveland got his tickets online, jumped in his 2007 yellow Chevy Corvette and drove the 950 miles from Reno to Billings, booking himself a room at the Clocktower Inn downtown. 

He's not alone. The day the rally in Billings was announced by the White House, Boothill Inn and Suites booked up completely. The hotel sits across the street from Rimrock Auto Arena, where Thursday's rally will be held. 

"We are already full," said Shelli Mann, Boothill's general manager. 

Clocktower Inn, a Best Western Plus hotel, saw a similar bump. Steve Wahrlich, the general manager, said his occupancy was up roughly 35 percent this week compared to the same week last year.

He's not sure exactly how much of that is due to the Trump rally; he'll have a better idea Thursday when he sees how busy the hotel's Metra shuttle is. However, he said, it's clear the president draws crowds. 

"He will have an impact on lodging," Wahrlich said. 

The Northern Hotel had to turn people away. Already booked were tour groups in town to visit the region this weekend, leaving little room for additional guests, said general manager George Maragos.

When Billings was announced as the next rally site, Maragos was contacted by governmental groups like the Secret Service and Homeland Security. The agents needed more rooms than Maragos had available and so he referred most of them across the street to the DoubleTree. 

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"We couldn't really take as many as they wanted us to take," he said. 

One-off events like the president's rally inevitably lead to issues like a crunch on available rooms, which is a good problem to have, Maragos said. But what's more important to his business is repeat customers, he said.

The rest of downtown is gearing up for larger-than-usual crowds. Stella's Kitchen and Bakery has nothing special planned for the day, but owner Stella Ziegler is anticipating more customers on Thursday. 

"Anytime there's something at the Metra it's gonna be good for business," she said. 

Likewise, Brad Halsten, owner of the Burger Dive, has nothing special planned on the menu but anticipates a big lunch rush. 

"I would expect a good crowd," he said. 

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.