Stock Show fallout: Businesses feel impact of cancellation

Chef Michael S. Thomson FWBP archives

All that is left are memories – for this year at least.

Chef Michael S. Thomson used to visit Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo [FWSSR] when he was younger. Later on in his life, he, alongside a friend, began a tradition of taking both their fathers to afternoon programs of the Stock Show. The “Bulls Night Out” performances were their favorites.

“And, those were memories I’ll have forever,” Thomson said.

Thomson’s father passed away some years ago. Still, jockeying around his tight daily schedule, he continued frequenting the once-a-year event, almost as a way to pay homage.

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Because besides the personal attachments, the Stock Show played a vital role over the years in the success of Thomson’s business, MICHAELS CUISINE Restaurant and Bar.

The restaurant, located minutes away from Will Rogers Memorial Center in the Cultural District, opened in March of 1992, a month shy of the that year’s stock show. After building up its  reputation and menu throughout the year, he had hoped the Stock Show’s enthusiasm would flow over decent business to his establishment as well.

What MICHAELS received in 1993 was a welcome outpouring of support – and diners.

“As much of an uptick as we could handle, anywhere,” Thomson said. “We always had been pretty much at our maximum limit for that entire month.”

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People kept pouring in during the show into the restaurant. The restaurant grew alongside FWSSR on its popularity and reach in the last three decades since then.

“Our bar business got a lot of it,” Thomson said. “And then, as the years kept going, we pushed more to get the dining in. And, we were more fine dining. And then I realized as – not just as a chef proprietor ­– but as a businessman, we need to take advantage of this.”

That’s when the restaurant rolled out a special “Stock Show” menu, with  steaks and side dishes, and turned its focus on providing quicker service.

The 23 days of Stock Show became the busiest period for the restaurant, every year. Last year, it amounted to over 25% of his total annual sales, according to Thomson.

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The staff members at MICHAELS were all gearing towards another stellar Stock Show business period, albeit cautiously and hopefully. Following the fallout from COVID-19 that has affected restaurants throughout Fort Worth, the consistently expected droves of restaurant patrons might have just turned the underwhelming year around.

Then, on Oct. 9, the executive committee of FWSSR announced the decision to cancel the 2021 show, citing health risks from the coronavirus.

“It has historically been our best time of the year. So getting this – the stock show cancelled, I mean,” Thomson said with a sigh, “we were praying that it wasn’t going to happen. Because with COVID, you know, we’d lost out on a lot of things.”

The cancellation of the Stock Show is yet another big blow not only to him, but so to every other local businesses in the area, Thomson said.

According to official estimates, more than 1.2 million guests, exhibitors and competitors would have attended the event, with daily Stock Show attendance exceeding 140,000.

Internal visitors and guests coming from approximately 234 Texas counties as well as all parts of the world, the event would have garnered millions of dollars in. direct and indirect financial impact to the local economy. A 2015 study puts that number to more than $88.6 million.

And with the move to the newly-built, 716,00-square-foot Dickies Arena, plans for the Stock Show were going to get larger.

“This is a heartbreaking decision for our leadership and was not made lightly,” Brad Barnes, Stock Show president and general manager, said in a statement regarding the cancelation.

The decision, however, comes as no surprise to many. There was writing on the walls already.

From Classic Rock band Kiss to pro-Wrestling shows and a national-level women’s gymnastics championship, among various others, all shows scheduled to take place in Dickies Arena since March until now have either been cancelled or postponed.

The same is true for almost all other larger-scale events throughout the Cultural District and Fort Worth as a whole.

“The question would be that if [FWSSR] were to happen, would it still be the same economic engine that we’ve experienced in previous years?” Dustin Van Orne, chairman of the Fort Worth Cultural District Alliance, asked rhetorically.

“I think all signs would be pointing to the fact that it would not, based on what every other institution and event is experiencing right now,” Van Orne said. “An event that’s as expensive to produce as the Stock Show and Rodeo, I have to imagine that their decision was not made with glee.”

Van Orne pointed out to how social restrictions or digital trends, like virtual gathering, would needed to have been placed to move forward with hosting the Stock Show.

“From an economic perspective, the cost of an event that size, it just seems like it would be a difficult hurdle to try and recoup the cost of an event when you may only expect 20 to 30% of your normal attendance,” Van Orne said.

It will be a while, it seems, for normalcy to return. In any given year, a bustling art and culture scene would have been present in the Cultural District. At present, the museums and arenas are hollow and the many cafes, bars and restaurants only slightly abuzz.

Van Orne and the Fort Worth Cultural District Alliance, which represents more than a hundred business and tourism leaders, have seen numerous businesses suffer from the lack of commerce this year.

“Just a general disappointment to the whole situation,” Van Orne said.

“It’s just a really tough year,” he said. “And the more that we can do as a community to kind of circle around these small businesses that are, that are struggling, and have been struggling throughout the year, the better.”