'Night and Day Difference': Rodeo Customers Bringing Wild Economic Ride to Local Businesses

July 23, 2021, 9:30 a.m. ·

The Fort Evan Parsons Rodeo
Evan Parsons steams and shapes cowboy hats at The Fort in Lincoln near 56th and Highway 2. (Photo by Jackie Ourada, Nebraska Public Media News)

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After an economic drought in Nebraska brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lincoln's getting a good rain of monetary relief in the form of the 2021 National High School Finals Rodeo which runs through Saturday.

Rodeo organizers said the event will bring in an estimated $16 million in economic impact – with local stores are juggling an influx in customers after the pandemic.

The economic boom filters down to mom and pops shops like the Country Sliced Ham and Café near 70th and O streets. Employees like Olive Paz said rodeo competitors from across the nation are stopping at the café in between their events at the Lancaster Event Center about four miles away.

"It's definitely been busier, especially our lunch rushes," Paz said. "You can feel it in the store. There's a lot more people here, and this space isn't huge to begin with, so you can really feel when there's like three or four extra people in here."

Families are making the trip even farther across town and packing businesses such as The Fort, a business that saw its margins slim just months ago from the COVID-19 pandemic. Store Manager Annette Condon bounces between dozens of customers all day.

Country Sliced Ham and Cafe
Employees Jeremiah Ravenscroft and Olive Paz prepare sandwiches and sides while customers filter into the Country Sliced Ham and Cafe near 70th and 'O' streets. (Photo by Jackie Ourada, Nebraska Public Media News)

"Oh, well it's like a completely night and day difference," Condon said. "You know, there was nothing last year so today – this whole week – it's been... it's just been getting busier as the days go by."

It's giving a healthy boost to the capital city's economy and its workers, like CeCe Elliot, who clocked in and got to catching up on folding jeans.

"More business equals more commission for me, personally," Elliot said. "It's nice for the people on the floor. 'Busy' means more hectic though, and it gets crazy. But, you know, more business for the store at least."

Across the women's section, employee Evan Parsons is surrounded by a group of cowboys and cowgirls, waiting to get their hats steamed and shaped. Parsons said his favorite part of the week is the small talk in between high-dollar transactions.

"Getting to talk to all sorts of people from all over the country and parts of North America, you know, from Canada and Mexico. So it's kind of nice just to get to see what people are – where they're from and see all these different experiences that they've got," Parsons said, while balancing a steamer and a large white cowboy hat.

"People come from all around the US. Kentucky and Texas," Elliot added. "People just from all over and they seem really nice."

Back at the Country Sliced Ham and Café, employee Jeremiah Ravenscroft said they're raking in more cash and friendly connections.

"It's been fantastic actually. We've been getting all sorts of walks of people coming in here," Ravenscroft said. "We've gotten a lot more out-of-state people than I expected, on average. So a lot of interesting stories to have something to talk about while you're making your orders and everything. It's been really nice overall."