There’s nothing more quintessentially Houstonian—and Texan, for that matter—than the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. This year would’ve been the 89th annual show, but thanks to the pandemic, officials cancelled the rodeo earlier this month, the first time since World War II (seriously, the last time the rodeo was cancelled was in 1945).
The show must go on, though—the scholarships are still happening, as are the livestock auctions and the barbecue and wine competitions (albeit in smaller, private events). It’s great that the rodeo will live on in that way, but there’s so much more to it than that.
There’s something so special about browsing the booths before a concert, munching on a funnel cake and finding a unique gift only a rodeo vendor can provide—these are all such integral parts of the rodeo experience that we will not get this year.
And with this year’s event cancelled, the vendors, who we’ve come to rely on for Texas-themed trinkets, our next rodeo outfit, the perfect office white elephant gift, and more, need support now more than ever. For many of the small businesses that sell their wares every year at NRG, the rodeo is the bread and butter of their income.
Madeline Wagner, of MyJewelryCleaner in Meansville, Georgia, says that the rodeo accounts for 75 percent of her business. And Andrea Rivera, of Hide and Chic Shop, a local online-only shop, points out that vendors have to worry about not just lost Rodeo sales, but also “lost opportunities to get my products in front of thousands of people.”
Becoming a vendor is a major deal. One of Wagner’s favorite RodeoHouston memories was the day MyJewelryCleaner was first accepted as a vendor. “My husband didn’t believe me!” she says. “It was a game changer for us [as] a small family business.”
Jamie Cronk, with Texian Leathers/Leathers with Design in Fredericksburg, has been a vendor for 23 years, following in the footsteps of her parents, who started making leather handbags, belts, and other accessories in 1969.
“They started doing the Houston rodeo when I was 13 years old and I’ve spent many years watching them grow and eventually working for them at the rodeo every year,” Cronk says. “Being able to set up every year at the rodeo and continue what my parents started makes me proud!”
But now all these vendors are hurt both financially and emotionally with the cancellation, and need the public’s support online—by sharing these businesses’ posts on social media and following their pages, which can create a pseudo-rodeo experience for them in the virtual arena. But Wagner also asks that the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo themselves acknowledge the vendors.
“I think it would be beneficial for the Houston Rodeo to actually acknowledge us through their social media outlets as well,” she says. Since officials announced the cancellation on February 3, there hasn’t been any mention of vendors on RodeoHouston’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram channels.
“Yes, we all do great business at the rodeo,” Wagner continues, “and I think every vendor is thankful for that and are extremely happy to be a part of the rodeo, but we also pay a pretty penny to be there and our fees go toward the success of the Houston rodeo, so a little acknowledgment from them would be a huge benefit.”
Of course, the best way to support these businesses would be to buy from them directly, although after a year of the pandemic and now the devastating winter storm, spending money is a luxury for some.
Eight-year rodeo vendor Helene Bernhard Little, of Helene Bernhard Little Watercolors in Houston, understands the financial crunch we’re all under. “I do think people are a bit tired of shopping online and also money is tight for so many,” she says, noting that one of the best ways to help vendors is to keep buying from “small local businesses.”
For folks who can show their support, one of the best places to find your favorite shops is the Texas Festival Vendors Facebook group, which was formed after the 2020 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was cancelled after being open for only nine days. It’s small (just over 170,000 members) compared to the expected rodeo attendance each year (a record-breaking 2.5 million people in 2019), but it’s provided a great platform for selling.
Joining the group is by approval only, but for the curation of items you can browse, it’s well worth the wait. Explore categories like animal tack and accessories, children’s goods, specialty food items, fine jewelry, and more. Or, if you want to find a specific vendor, the shopping guide for the 2020 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is still live on their website—just scroll through to see what vendor jumps out at you, and give their name a quick Google to find their store.
There will also be a pop-up featuring many vendors on March 20 at Amsterdam Coffee House at 807 W 19th St, if you’d like to check out some items in person.
There are hundreds of vendors who sell through Texas Festival Vendors and in their own stores. We’ve picked out a few of our favorites below:
- The Caramel Candy Company: Their famous non-stick caramel is the perfect sweet treat. Chappell Hill.
- Big Creek Berries: This farm’s known for its spreadable creamed honey, which is perfect on biscuits. Shepherd.
- The Toffee Company: A Bayou City-based toffee company that’s making some pretty sweet flavors. Houston.
- Sonterra Designs: Offers a wide variety of ladies’ apparel, purses, and more. San Antonio.
- Flair & Company: Find cute and fashionable tops, bottoms, and other basics. Various locations.
- Shorty’s Caboy Hattery: Get custom-made cowboy hats for when the rodeo finally returns for its 90th year. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
- Tiles Across Texas: Shop handmade tile decor for a variety of occasions. Killeen.
- GoodTimber Furnishings: This husband-and-wife team makes wooden, handmade charcuterie boards and lazy Susans. Waco.
- Terra Leather: This company makes a variety of cowhide and leather goods, ranging from rugs to pillows and other seasonal products. Weatherford.