Sagebrush Saloon & BBQ LLC owner Kat Hill explains the importance of the Vale 4th of July Rodeo to her business last week. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).
VALE – The rodeo grounds in Vale will be a quiet place this summer.
Last week, the iconic 106-year-old Vale 4th of July Rodeo was canceled because of the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
Rodeo President Kurt Haueter announced the move May 20.
“It was a decision we didn’t want to make. I kind of feel like it was a decision that was not ours to make and it was kind of made for us,” said Haueter last week.
Haueter’s announcement capped a week and a half of key cancellations around the county. Two weeks ago, the Malheur County Fair was canceled. Earlier last week, the Nyssa Nite Rodeo was scrubbed. The Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo, usually held in late May, was also canceled.
Gov. Kate Brown’s restrictions on larger gatherings played a key role in the decision to cancel all the events. Brown announced earlier this month a broad outline to reopen the state in phases but still left in place a prohibition on gatherings of 25 or more people. The governor said fairs and festivals should be canceled through September.
The Vale rodeo was slated to begin July 1 and run through July 4.
“Having that Fourth of July on Saturday, that could have been a big year for us,” said Haueter.
For some local merchants it is too early to gauge just how big an impact the cancelation of the Vale 4th of July Rodeo will have, but they agree it will put a dent in their financial bottom line.
“It’s major. We count on that every year,” said Kathy Saldana, owner of the A Street Tavern in Vale.
Saldana said overflow crowds from the rodeo fill up her tavern every night of the four-night event.
“It probably triples, at least, what you make in four days compared to what you make in normal circumstances in a week,” said Saldana.
The 2019 rodeo, she said, was “the best year I’ve ever had.”
“Here we just got done being closed nine, almost 10 weeks, and that was devastating in and of itself. So, we were hoping and praying hard that at the least we’d have the rodeo,” said Saldana.
Down the road from the A Street Tavern, Kat Hill, owner of the Sagebrush Saloon & BBQ LLC, said the loss of the rodeo will hammer her business.
“We take about a $13,000 hit. We make, on average, between $3,500 to $4,000 a day on the rodeo,” said Hill.
Sharon Bannon, owner of the Starlite Café in Vale, said her business will see the biggest impact from the loss of the rodeo on her breakfast crowd.
“That part it will definitely affect us because we are one of the few places that actually serves breakfast, said Bannon.
Bannon said, though, that “everything is affecting our business this year it seems like.”
“It will be hard to differentiate from not having the rodeo and the normal virus where people are not going anywhere,” said Bannon.
Malinda Castleberry, owner of Mal’s Diner in Vale, said the rodeo helps her business.
“So, this is devasting. It will impact us for the next year,” said Castleberry.
John Breidenbach, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce, said the loss of annual summer events will “ripple through the economy.”
“The overall impact of not having major events that bring in sponsorships and people from out of the area and help the local economy move along is huge,” said Breidenbach.
Haueter said it is “hard to put a dollar figure on the total impact” of no rodeo.
He said the rodeo drew about 5,000 people over its four-day run last year. That figure, he said, doesn’t take into account the countless number of volunteers, contractors and competitors that are part of the rodeo. The rodeo also generates income for the local Future Farmers of America chapter and the Vale High School senior class. Both organizations sponsor food booths at the rodeo. The Malheur County Sheriff’s Office also sponsors a food booth at the fair.
“So, we don’t bring any money on food sales,” said Haueter.
Haueter said the rodeo netted more than $90,000 last year but most of that money is ploughed back into the rodeo.
“We operate as a non-profit so everything we bring in, we put right back into our contractors, contestants, expenses and insurance,” said Haueter.
Malheur County Health Director Sarah Poe said big events with a lot of people prove to be a target-rich environment for the COVID-19 virus.
“We know the primary way that this virus spreads is through close contact through people. We know it is highly contagious,” said Poe.
Poe said just one person infected with the COVID-19 virus – and who shows no symptoms – attending a big event like the Vale 4th of July Rodeo could produce many infections.
“We’ve seen the worst outbreaks across the state and the nation are often rooted in social gatherings,” said Poe.
Poe said the science and the state and federal guidelines are specific and aimed at containing the virus.
“Our actions do impact those around us. At what point do we listen to experts who tell us how to prevent the spread of this virus? Especially considering how many people have died?” said Poe.
As of Sunday, Malheur County recorded 28 cases of the COVID-19 virus. None of the positive COVID-19 cases have been hospitalized and no deaths from the virus have been reported in the county. Fourteen people among the cases have recovered, according to the county.
Bannon said she wanted to try to be optimistic about the future.
“I guess in July it will just be like June or August, which isn’t horrible,” said Bannon.
Then she paused.
“But it won’t be as near as much fun,” said Bannon.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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