By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Sisters business owners on Wednesday said they were surprised but understood the COVID-related decision to cancel the town’s famous rodeo for the second straight year.
“It was unexpected, but I applaud the decision,” said Greg Willitts, owner of Five Pine Lodge. “We really appreciate the advance notice. We will miss those rodeo aficionados from around the state and some even internationally stay with us. But we will be able to fill those rooms with the average tourists excited to venture into Central Oregon.”
The week-long Sisters Rodeo attracts tens of thousands of people to the small town and region each year in early June.
But officials made the tough decision on Tuesday to cancel the event over continued COVID concerns.
“If we were in a low category, we were going to put on a rodeo at 50% capacity,” said Amorita Anstett, Sisters Rodeo Association public relations director. “We were willing to take that risk, to go that distance and take that financial hit because we knew the community needed it. We also knew the contestants wanted our rodeo and we wanted to do it. But at 15% capacity, there’s just no way. We just couldn’t do it.”
They also decided it’s not possible to reschedule for later in the year.
Some businesses are worried about the impact of losing the event again.
Dixie’s, a western and outdoor clothing store is mobbed during rodeo week.
“It’s going to be very difficult. It’s our busiest week of the year,” said Rigo Ramirez, Dixie’s owner. “It’s going to affect the entire town. It’s going to affect the Central Oregon economy as a whole. It happened to us last year, we were caught off guard, but we made it through. Didn’t expect it to happen again this year.”
Ramirez says Dixie’s ramped up its online sale presence after the rodeo was canceled last year.
He hopes those online sales get him through until the regular summer crowds arrive.
The Sisters Chamber plans to help fill the gap.
“When we have an event get cancelled, we will market to have people come and visit Sisters,” said Judy Trego, Sisters Chamber of Commerce CEO. “We really work to ensure the businesses stay viable through other means when our large events such as the Sisters Folk Festival and Quilt Show are cancelled.”
Sisters Rodeo officials say they have the financial reserves to weather a second year of rodeo closure and do improvements to facilities.
Now it’s up to the restaurants, retailers, and the lodging industry to figure out how to get by without the people the rodeo brings.