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A remedy for no rodeo: Local businesses fill the void without Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo week

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Dallas Cunningham and Justin Young rake the dirt inside the arena at Horseman's Sports Arena on Monday evening in preparation for the barrel races being held on Tuesday evening. What was supposed to be the 50th annual Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo this weekend, was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wait until 2021 for the 50th celebration. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Diane Moody likened the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo to Christmas in July.

Typically by this time, the Mitchell rodeo grounds would be starting to fill with trucks, trailers, horses and livestock. The Ethan Trail Riders would be set up for the week on the rodeo grounds and locals would be filing in to Moody’s Western Wear -- owned by Diane and Skip Moody -- hoping to find an outfit festive enough for the occasion.

But for the first time in 50 years, Horseman’s Sports Arena is empty during the third week in July. There will be no parade and cowboys and cowgirls are not streaming into town hoping for a well-earned payday. It has been nearly three months since the rodeo was canceled, another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic that has left a large void for many this summer.

“It’s my favorite weekend of the whole entire year,” said Mary Beyer, Ethan Trail Riders president. “Everyone looks forward to that weekend every single year. Not only am I hanging out with people I love to hang out with, but the rodeo is my favorite part. I love rodeos.”

Safety and health was a concern for fans, competitors and workers, but as a nonprofit, Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo, Inc. found roadblocks in securing volunteers and sponsors as many local businesses were temporarily shuttered during the spring shutdown.

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Businesses are largely back up and running, but some still have safety measures in place and the virus still lingers, giving the rodeo committee affirmation it made the right decision despite cancelling Christmas for some.

“The pandemic has created so many strange scenarios for everyone, everywhere,” said Jim Miskimins, Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo board president. “This is just another unfortunate example of it. We’re certainly disappointed that we’re not able to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Corn Palace Stampede in a timely fashion and welcome thousands of people to our community.”

Miskimins says the rodeo committee continues to hold meetings in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the rodeo in 2021, which was to be the centerpiece of the celebration before the cancellation.

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What was supposed to be the 50th annual Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo this weekend Horseman's Sports Arena sits empty as the rodeo was forced to cancel this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wait until 2021 for the 50th celebration. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Moody’s was also looking to have a celebration in conjunction with rodeo season after moving from downtown Mitchell to North Main Street -- located a few minutes from the rodeo grounds -- late last year. Moody’s had been planning a grand reopening during the spring, but COVID-19 pushed it back to Aug. 7-8 and it also cost them a chance to test out the new location when the rodeo rolled into town.

The week leading up to the rodeo is typically when spectators come to find their desired apparel, while competitors typically trickle in later in the week. With a location closer to the rodeo grounds, Diane Moody was hoping it would bring more of them into the store if they needed to purchase something in a pinch. Since the move, she has also learned that tourists looking to bring home western wear will typically search for them.

“I think (the new location) was going to make a big difference,” Moody said. “I was hoping it was going to be easier if (customers) didn’t have a lot of time. If you come from the interstate, you’re going to have to drive by. I think it was going to be really good, better than downtown.”

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Finding alternative options

Ordering clothing in advance and a brief shutdown during the pandemic provided extra inventory that wasn’t able to be unloaded during rodeo week, although Moody said business has picked up in recent weeks.

With sales and a few events planned for kids for the reopening celebration, Moody believes the store will recoup some money, but it will be hard to fill the hole in the cash register left by the cancellation of the rodeo.

“It’s been really busy for the past five weeks, so I can’t say we’re hurting terribly,” Moody said. “But by time the week’s over and you look at your standings for the year versus last year after the rodeo, it’s not going to look so good. We’ve been really busy the last five weeks. It’s normal, but I wasn’t expecting it with COVID.”

The Ethan Trail Riders have also been displaced from its normal preparations this week, as the nonprofit organization typically camps and rides horses on the rodeo grounds the entire week as they volunteer for a variety of odd jobs including handling parking, raking the arena and whatever else is needed by the rodeo committee.

Beyer, a 33-year-old Ethan native, has been attending the rodeo with the Trail Riders throughout her life, and instead of camping on the rodeo grounds, they decided to do so at the Ethan rodeo arena in an attempt to keep a semblance of the tradition alive.

“We’re going to have a weekend together like we normally do, there just won’t be a rodeo to go to,” Beyer said. “... We threw around the idea of going somewhere and riding, but what we like to do is just get together. We all enjoy each other and we all love riding. That’s kind of the point of it and we still wanted to do that.”

Like most involved with the rodeo, Beyer was disappointed over the cancellation, but was able to let those feelings subside and look toward next year.

“We were all very bummed,” Beyer said. “But what do you do? Life is changing and you kind of have to go with it. There’s nothing we could have done differently.”

Related Topics: RODEO
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