By the time Bill Cosby’s trial starts Monday inside the Montgomery County Courthouse, Santino Ciccaglione will have already been at work across the street for hours.
Ciccaglione, the owner of Sessano Cafe, plans to open by 6 a.m. to feed the dozens of reporters flocking to Norristown.
He saw business spike up to 50 percent during pretrial hearings in the case — and hopes for even more this week. He’s scheduling extra staff, adding outdoor seating, and planning to serve plenty of pork sandwiches in his modest café a stone’s throw from the courthouse.
“As they say: Bring it on,” Ciccaglione said Friday. “We’ll feed the people.”
Cosby’s trial is not only the biggest spectacle to come to Norristown. It’s likely to be the most closely watched celebrity trial since O.J. Simpson’s in 1995.
More than 100 reporters and television crew members have sought credentials to cover the case, and satellite trucks are expected to line Main Street. The trial is also expected to draw scores of spectators, including some of Cosby’s other accusers, and possibly some of his supporters.
Whether it will hurt or help the perpetually struggling borough is unclear.
Unlike its counterpart county seats ringing Philadelphia — West Chester, Media, and Doylestown – Norristown lacks a bustling shopping or restaurant scene. Its boasts a population of 34,000 and is one of the poorer towns in one of the state’s richest counties – with a median household income of $41,000, far below the national median and barely more than half the countywide median of $80,000.
The trial is projected to last about two weeks. Montgomery County officials estimate it will cost the county between $100,000 and $200,000, in part because it must transport, feed and sequester the 12 jurors and six alternates chosen last month in Pittsburgh. They will stay at an undisclosed hotel – although Norristown has no hotels and few restaurants around the courthouse.
Reporters and other spectators are likely to stay in King of Prussia or other nearby towns. With an eye toward the media, the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board’s website posted special hotel rates for people traveling to the area for the trial, with 14 hotels listed in order by distance from the courthouse.
But given the nature of the event – a sex-assault trial — tourism officials are not pushing hotel packages and nearby attractions with the same gusto they might apply for attendees at sporting events or conventions.
“The economic impact will be good for us, we assume … but the reason that these visitors are coming is a little bit sensitive,” said Dan Weckerly, communications manager for the board.
Weckerly said there is no way to track how many people are booking rooms for the trial, but people have visited that hotel site from Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, and Oregon.
Officials also have to worry about keeping everyone safe. Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny said his office has spent months planning trial logistics and security, and that all 112 sheriff’s deputies will be on call. Kilkenny said his department has also coordinated with the Norristown police and other nearby police departments to assist if needed.
“It’s absolutely all hands on deck,” he said.
The jurors’ identities and accommodations are being kept private – and Judge Steven T. O’Neill has warned of “serious repercussions” for anyone who attempts to talk to them during the trial.
Still, court officials are exploring ways to accommodate them when they aren’t at the courthouse. “If people want to go to church services or if perhaps they want to pay a visit to Valley Forge National Park … we’re looking into those kinds of options,” Kilkenny said.
At Sessano Cafe, Ciccaglione said he may also be feeding jurors — but he won’t know for certain. Jurors will eat lunch inside the courthouse every day. Since opening the eatery about two years ago, Ciccaglione often receives large orders that court staff members pick up.
He said he most looks forward to meeting reporters from around the world who venture into his small café.
“That’s kind of fascinating, to be honest with you,” he said.