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Houston Rodeo vendors get back to business after 2 years of COVID-19 shutdown

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the biggest event of the year for many vendors, who’ve taken a major hit during the pandemic cancellations.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Eric and Teri Matzdorf, owners of Silver Gallery, prepare their booth for the 2022 Rodeo on Feb. 25, 2022.

Cindy Henley remembers the exact moment when the 2020 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was officially canceled. She was helping some kids at her store, Cadillac Style, pick out new jackets with the official Houston Rodeo logo embroidered on it.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner had just announced that concerts would be shut down, and the rest of the rodeo would "phase down" after less than two weeks of what was supposed to be a month-long event.

“There were people in our booth devastated,” Henley said. “I mean, just crying, you know, it was horrible.”

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Looking back, Henley described that March 11 day as unprecedented and devastating. She's been a vendor at the rodeo since 2000, and while it's not all of her income, making the trip from Abilene every year is an important, costly party of her business.

"To shut us down after we've spent a week setting up, paid people, I mean, I just am still in shock that happened," Henley says.

Every year up until the pandemic hit, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo poured millions into the local economy for the month that it takes place at NRG Park, and provided some vendors with their biggest payday of the year.

Now, after a nearly two-year hiatus, the rodeo returned to NRG on Monday, and the vendors who made it are looking to get back to business as usual.

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Henley was able to come back this year thanks to her savings. But the same can’t be said for all of her friends in the industry. In particular, she knows vendors in the food industry who lost thousands of dollars back in 2020 due to perishable food.

Rodeo officials couldn’t provide exact numbers, but confirmed that the event "definitely lost" more vendors than they would in a normal year for a variety of reasons.

"One is people decided during COVID that they wanted to do something different," says Chris Boleman, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo CEO. "And then there's still just some uncertainty because as we look back even even late Christmas time, that's when people had to start making decisions about their inventory, whether it be food or retail, they were just uncomfortable."

Ultimately, that's just a small fraction of what the Houston economy lost as a whole over the last two years.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Co-owner Andy Brown outside of Cattilac Style’s Rodeo booth on Feb. 25, 2022.

Houston First, the city's tourism booster, estimates visitors spend tens of millions of dollars each year during the rodeo. But Michael Heckman, Houston First CEO, said the real amount of economic activity lost during the pandemic was “incalculable.”

"That doesn’t count the economic activity from all the Houstonians," says Michael Heckman, Houston First CEO. "It’s great for hotels, it’s great for restaurants, taxis, Uber, Lyft."

Organizer almost moved forward with the rodeo in 2021, but it was ultimately canceled again due to the ongoing pandemic. Heckman says Rodeo Houston didn’t get pushback from city or county officials ahead of this year’s event.

"We are in a very different place with how we're dealing with the virus,” he said. “I think the enormous majority of folks will be really, really happy to have the rodeo back this year.”

None more so than Eric and Teri Matzdorf, who finally have an opportunity to sell their jewelry after trying for years.

Events like these generate 100% of the couple's yearly income — which is already off to a better start than 2021.

"That was the big running joke this year,” Eric Matzdorf said. “It was 100% better than last year."

This isn’t the first event of 2022 for the couple. Earlier this year, they were vendors at shows in Wisconsin, Michigan and Fort Worth, where Matzdorf said they saw pent-up demand.

"Attendance was good, and people are ready to get out there” Matzdorf said. “They're ready to spend money.”

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