After trading comments and questions for 90 minutes, representatives of the Pendleton Downtown Partnership and of the Main Street Cowboys reached a good point Wednesday evening: They started talking more about what's good for all the community and less about their own groups.
Becky Marks, member of the Pendleton City Council, called the meeting because of resentment of some Main Street area merchants toward outside vendors who are brought in at Round-Up by the Main Street Cowboys. Many merchants on and around Pendleton's Main Street are hard pressed these days and not just by the recession. They trail Hermiston and Walla Walla in numbers of shoppers and in local volume of goods and services.
When the Main Street Cowboys work with city officials at Round-Up to locate up to 50 outside vendors in the five blocks of Main Street, some of the merchants become unglued. "Shouldn't year-around merchants count for more here than vendors who come to town for just four days of the rodeo?" they ask.
For various merchants, Round-Up is a mixed blessing. If you are selling food and drink, Western wear, gasoline or a place to stay the night, you probably feel net value in the Round-Up. Otherwise, one of the top North American rodeos might not do all that much for you. And when entertainment stages, vendors, generators and cords cover most of Main Street, the environment for downtown merchants can be financially questionable.
Main Street Cowboys have a fine, admirable story to tell. They are a small band of volunteers who provide benches and entertainment downtown in what has been called over the years the best free community show in the West. The Main Streeters promote Round-Up in other communities both in this region and outside. They have brought in lots of high quality vocalists, musicians and other entertainers, and that is part of the problem. Cost of entertainers and their agents keeps rising, and the Main Street Cowboys are under some pressure to bring in enough food, Western wear and other vendor fees to cover expenses of their entertainers.
Last evening's meeting began with some defensiveness but seemed to move forward as more questions were asked. How many vendors do you aim for downtown? Do you have any local vendors setting up on the street? Could, say, downtown restaurants get permits for extending their business onto the sidewalk? How can we work together for the good of all groups?
It was noted that the Main Street Show in its earliest days - the 1950s, for example - was a quite different mix: Street dancing, a shoot-out between lawmen and bad guys, some carnival rides and a patent medicine show.
Late in last night's meeting, the groups got talking about visitor interest in craftwork. Someone mentioned a horse shoe demonstration was included in the early Main Street Show. It was about then that groups on both sides of the table agreed that the overall goal needs to be some decsisions on the show and on vendors that benefit and work for all Pendleton parties.
In recent years, even recent months, Pendleton's population of Western businesses - saddleries, boots, hats, beadwork, furniture, the sprucing up of the Pendleton Woolen plant - has been on the rise.
Our suggestion is that last night's meeting be followed up with a second meeting to aim for the best overall arrangement for all Pendleton interests - merchants, Main Street Cowboys, our Round-Up guests, Round-Up and Happy Canyon.
Now that the conversation has started, put together a collaborative printed agenda. Such a meeting is for sure needed for next year's Round-Up centennial. And even though work is under way on this year's show, a coordinating meeting could help even now as well as with the Cattle Barons event that impacts merchants.
Among items that could be discussed: Long range, what is the best mix of features for the Main Street Show? Can vendor management be improved in the rest of town? City police lack the power to yank a business license once it has gone to a vendor. What about occasional complaints of Round-Up price gouging?
As the Round-Up nears its 100th birthday, it is good for the whole community to talk over how to make the show even better. It is hometown effort that has propelled the Round-Up to where it is today.
Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the East Oregonian editorial board, comprised of Associate Publisher Kathryn Brown, General Manager Wendy DalPez, Managing Editor Skip Nichols, News Editor Daniel Wattenburger and Senior Reporter Dean Brickey. Other columns, letters and cartoons on this page express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily that of the East Oregonian.