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Photo of Stephanie Sorini by Paul Vang

By Paul F. Vang

It was a hectic time. The Montana Folk Festival was starting. The Butte 100 mountain bike race was just a week off. Just to make things interesting, there was a family wedding a week earlier, and to top things off, Stephanie Sorini, Director of the Butte-Silver Bow Chamber of Commerce, was recovering from a case of shingles, that miserable echo from a childhood case of chicken pox.

Despite those distractions, Stephanie Sorini created some time to talk about herself, her work, and her vision for the Chamber of Commerce and its importance to not only the business community but the entire Butte community.

Stephanie grew up in and around Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her father was the director of a VA hospital. Her mother was primarily a teacher, though also ventured in many directions from there. Stephanie graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in business.

Stephanie was working in the administration of the neurosurgery department at an Arizona hospital, and it was inevitable that her path would intersect with a young neurosurgery resident from Butte, Montana, Peter Sorini, and they married, eventually coming to Butte 25 years ago.

Stephanie was a working mother, selling real estate, and operated a children’s clothing and toy store. She became a member of the Chamber of Commerce and then served on the board of directors. She became director of the Chamber of Commerce in 2013. She comments on her job, “Business is a challenging career. I felt I had something to offer when I was offered this position. I have two main personal goals; to be a resource to small businesses, and to promote economic development and thus grow the community.”

The next few years were challenging. In 2014, her husband, by then a renowned neurosurgeon, both as a military reservist and in his civilian practice, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor that is usually fatal. Peter died on February 8, 2016.

While this was a devastating period, Stephanie kept working and, in fact, sought a new challenge, buying the Butte 100 bike race. While the Butte 100 is a big event in the mountain biking community, it is, in fact, a business, as well. Stephanie comments, “It’s a huge business, with 500 racers from all over the U.S. and Canada, and a huge staff of volunteers.” The work and planning of the event is a year around process, with just a short break after the event and then it’s back to planning the next year’s event. As is said of some other ventures, “It takes a village to put it on.”

Still, the business life of Butte-Silver Bow is the center of Stephanie Sorini’s career. We talked about some of the issues and challenges of the Butte business climate.

Big Box Stores. “What we may be lacking in ‘big box stores,’ we make up in small stores that, together, have about everything that we need, and we find that visitors like shopping our many stores.” Stephanie continues, “We have a lot of small stores in Butte, and we need to support them.”

Malls. “We have what we need, even if it’s not located in a mall. We need to promote shopping in our local stores, as these store owners are the people that support our little leagues and other community activities.” In our discussion, we noted that all across the country, malls are in trouble, and many have been totally abandoned, or changed to some purpose other than retail.

Festivals and Tourism. “Festivals bring a lot of people to Butte. People love coming to Butte, as we have so much to offer.” Stephanie noted the many festivals, starting with SnőFlinga in January, and the summer festivals such as the Montana Folk Festival, An Ri Ra, and, of course, the Butte 100. “There’s something just about every month..”

She notes the uniqueness of Butte, with its varied architecture, the World Mining Museum, the Berkeley Pit, the Trolley tours, children’s theater, symphony orchestra, as well as the area’s almost unlimited opportunities for outdoor recreation, such as flyfishing, big game hunting, downhill and cross-country skiing, golfing, rock climbing, the Continental Divide Trail and other hiking trails. “Tourism generates a lot of business, and our Convention and Visitor Bureau is part of the services we provide.”

The Chamber of Commerce is a clearing house and information center for Butte visitors.  Trolley tours begin and end at the Chamber. It’s also a starting point for the Ulrich-Schotte Nature Trail that gives both visitors and residents the opportunity to enjoy a walk along Blacktail Creek and to enjoy nature and wildlife along the stream.

A highlight of any visit to the Chamber’s headquarters is the George Grant collection of flyfishing memorabilia housed at the Chamber. Some visitors come to Butte specifically to view the display. George Grant was a long-time leader for cold water fisheries conservation, especially regarding the Big Hole River. He was the founder of the Big Hole Conservation Foundation. Trout Unlimited designated Grant as one of the “heroes” of the first 50 years of Trout Unlimited. The Butte chapter of Trout Unlimited is named in his honor. Grant died in 2008 at age 102.

Stephanie sums it up, “For a community of our size, we offer a lot, and so much of it is quality things for families to do.”

As for the Chamber of Commerce, Stephanie concedes that the Covid pandemic was a big challenge for both the Chamber and the business community, and she adds that it made them work harder to recruit members. She says the current count of members is over 400 and those numbers keep growing.

We discussed her philosophy of a chamber of commerce and how it fits in. “The Chamber is a non-profit organization, separate from the government of Butte-Silver Bow. We partner with B-SB, but we are separate. Above all, we are an organization that supports its members. Our members are VERY strong.”

Our conversation ended on a non-work note. Stephanie encourages people over age 50 to get a shingles vaccination. She can testify from personal experience that getting shingles is not good.