Vendors Suffer Hit As Coronavirus Cuts Houston Rodeo Short

For many, the Houston Livestock and Rodeo is a major source of revenue every year.

Patty Lewis, owner of Rockin’ P Ranch, says she’ll have to take money out of her mortgage to deal with the revenue loss from the Houston Rodeo.


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A day after the Houston Rodeo shut its doors to visitors last week, vendors were busy taking down their stands in the exhibit hall at NRG Center.

They carry Western fashion, art, furniture, toys and jewelry, among other products.

For many of them, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was a major part of their annual revenue.

Some people — like Patty Lewis, who owns Rockin P Ranch, a Colorado-based Western-wear store — have worked the rodeo for decades.

Lewis said she'd set up a booth for the past 25 years. For her, the early ending is devastating.

"Well, I overbought this year and I usually depend on it. I work all year long and then at the end of the year I get paid," she said. "And so now I'm going to have to take mortgage out of my house to pay my bills from this show."

Lewis said the Houston Rodeo is by far her biggest moneymaker of the year, and the last event of the year for her, so she won't be able to find enough buyers for the $3 million worth of inventory she has.

"I don't agree that they should have canceled it," she said. "I understand why they did, but it just seems so bizarre that all of a sudden at 4 o'clock, you know, the mayor gets on there and at 4 o'clock y'all are done. And all these people are already in here."

But Lewis also said she hopes this will help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Unlike for the seasonal flu, there is currently no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It also spreads much faster and the death rate is estimated to be much higher than for the flu, with people older than 60 and those with existing health condition most at risk, according to the World Health Organization.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo posted a link to all its vendors on its website and is encouraging people to support those businesses.

Bobbie Gough works at custom hat maker Shorty's Hattery, which she said has come to the Houston Rodeo since 1997, and also said it was the vendor’s biggest show of the year.

"Yeah, I mean, it's like our biggest show that we do, and we're probably going to be $100,000-plus in a hole," she said.

After a weak first week at the rodeo, Betty Pope, of Rockin’ L Designs, was hoping the last week was going to make up for it.

Besides ordering all the inventory, she said, there are a lot of expenses related to exhibiting at the rodeo.

"I think our booth space runs about $9,000," she said. "Then you got to pay for the extra electricity, you got to pay for your trailer storage in the back, for restocking trailer, that's about $600 – depends on the size of your trailer, we have two trailers."

Those kinds of calculations are made thanks to the near-certainty of profit. The Houston Rodeo had an economic impact of $227 million in 2019, including the addition of 3,694 direct jobs with the event and an estimated 5,133 total jobs in greater Houston, according to a study from organizers.

It also generated $391 million in total economic activity, the study said. And much of that economic activity was directed at the event’s roughly 300 vendors.


Some vendors who hedged their bets had it easier. Ann Ortiz, owner of Topeka, Kansas-based Ann's Turquoise, said fortunately she didn't order too much.

"We just ordered our spring and summer, so we have ordered no more than we normally order," she said. "And actually what we don't have, it probably could be canceled. So we're not in that bad of shape."

Robin Mankins, who owns Just A Little Western out of Grand View, is also optimistic that her business will survive the rodeo cancellation.

"I have my store and my website, and I'm headed to another show and I have four shows in April," she said. "And I'm booked up solid all the way to June. I go year-round."

But for Rockin' L Designs, a Western furniture and accessory store, the Houston Rodeo accounts for 60% of its annual revenue, and this year it's the only event the vendor planned to attend.

Betty Pope, who helps her brother run the business, said the first week was already down 50% from other years.

Pope said they didn't even come close to paying for their expenses to be able to sell at the Houston Rodeo. And that's not counting expenses for all the merchandise they are sitting on now.

"So we were hoping with the last week and the entertainment being better, that it would pick up and we would get back up to normal," she said. "We don't have that opportunity now."

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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