Updated December 1, 2021 - 11:59 pm
Cowboys, cowgirls and Christmas shoppers began ticking items off their shopping lists Wednesday evening with the return of Cowboy Christmas at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Cowboy Christmas, the National Finals Rodeo’s companion Western-themed gift show, returned to Las Vegas after a yearlong hiatus. Organizers say demand “has never been higher” for the show that’s grown from about 31,400 attendees in its first year in 1986 to more than 250,000 in 2019.
The gift show started Wednesday evening with a tree lighting ceremony at South Hall, a night earlier than previous shows. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman used the tree lighting to encourage out-of-state visitors to move to Southern Nevada.
“We know how to have a party, we know how to have conventions, and we know how to be cowboys,” Goodman said.
Entertainment for the kickoff night continued with performances by Shane Minor, Drake Milligan and Easton Corbin; a rodeo fashion show; and an appearance from Bullfighters Only.
Visitors were eager to check out the more than 350 exhibitors from across the country. Products include custom-made jewelry, western wear, boots and spurs, furniture, original art, handmade crafts and home goods. Unique pieces like bracelets made out of baseball leather and boots with nighttime desert imagery were featured across the convention floor.
Las Vegas resident Kathy Savage was among the shoppers Wednesday evening, looking for cowboy boots and a hat. She said she attends Cowboy Christmas nearly every year, but it was her first time attending on opening day.
“This is my first time coming here on the first day, and it’s great because there’s not many people,” she said. “It’s just exciting to be here with all the cowboys, all the gear and everything.”
The annual Western-themed gift show has been a rodeo tradition since 1986, a year after NFR first came to Las Vegas. Last year’s rodeo and gift show were held in Dallas-Fort Worth, which brought different customers, some vendors said.
Western Tradition owner Rick Bishop said his custom hat business focuses on trade and stock shows. Last year’s event didn’t attract as many Californians because of its location and the pandemic.
Chet Vogt, owner of Vogt Silversmiths, said the Texas-based show saw fewer travelers from across the country compared to Las Vegas. Most drove into the area for the rodeo, he said.
“I’m in the business of making people feel good. (The products) are a want, not a need,” Vogt, of Woodland, California, said. “I’ve had a lot of returning customers over the years, and the crowd that comes to Vegas is more affluent.”
More than 60 concerts will take place around the show, and a one-way shuttle service will connect Cowboy Christmas at the convention center with the rodeo events at Thomas & Mack Center.
The gift show continues Dec. 2-11 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.